Has France cracked the YC recipe?

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For the first time, France was one of the top represented countries in Y Combinator’s Summer 22 batch. Three of the eight French startups selected by YC are also former residents of the Station F campus in Paris, so we chatted with its director, Roxanne Varza, to understand how that happened and what others could learn from it. Let’s dive in. — Anna

Meet the French

France was among the top five countries represented in YC’s S22 batch, with eight of its startups joining the accelerator’s latest cohort. That was fewer than the U.S., India, the U.K. and Israel. But it was more than Germany, which sent six startups to YC this year — a near-record for the country, but also less comparatively impressive given its larger population than France’s own.

In absolute terms, France is only equaling its own S21 record, but that batch had 390 participants. As TechCrunch reported last month, the YC S22 batch was much smaller, with some 240 teams. This means that French representation is proportionally on the rise, a good omen for France’s goal to be home to 100 unicorns by 2030.

Let’s add a caveat that we are following YC in using “French” loosely here — almost every single one of these eight teams has a remote component, and some also have a presence in the U.S. or other countries. However, this isn’t specific to France, as YC noted that among the startups in its latest batch, 35% were remote and 37% were remote-friendly.

Here’s the list of the eight French startups that were part of YC’s S22 batch, along with the tagline of their choosing:

  • Bitstack — “The first mass-market crypto wallet for Europe”
  • Blitz — “Build collaborative apps with zero code”
  • Jamble — “Whatnot for Fashion”
  • Moneco — “Neobank for African migrants in Europe”
  • NewsCatcher — “News API for risk and data teams”
  • NuMind — “Create custom NLP models”
  • Trendex — “Invest in people’s performance like you invest in stocks”
  • Windmill — “Open source platform to turn scripts into internal apps and workflows”

As you can see, unlike their Latin American and African peers, the majority of which focus on fintech, French startups in this YC cohort come from a wide range of sectors. For instance, my TechCrunch colleagues remarked that NuMind was one of the AI startups that stood out in YC’s latest batch, while Jamble did the same in the creator economy category.

While quite different from each other, several of the French participants have one thing in common: They are former residents of Station F, the Paris-based startup campus that celebrated its fifth birthday earlier this year.

The Station F YC club

Bitstack, Blitz and Jamble all come out of Station F, the startup facility told TechCrunch. Its director, Roxanne Varza, added that 20 to 30 Station F startups typically apply for each YC batch. Since three of them made the cut, this would put the success rate of Station F startups this time around at over 10%, much higher than YC’s overall acceptance rate of 1.3%.

Station F’s campus has welcomed more than 5,000 startups to date, so it is no surprise that some of these ended up joining YC. But we also understand that how often that happens is no accident.

It doesn’t hurt that YC’s outgoing president, Geoff Ralston, studied at France’s INSEAD school and was happy to visit Station F in person. But it’s not just him: Varza and her team have built enough ties with YC partners over the years to be able to flag top applicants.

“We actually ask all companies on campus to tell us when they apply to YC so that we can also help and recommend the ones that are particularly strong,” Varza explained. But there’s more, she added: Applicants also help each other. “Obviously YC is organizing stuff on their end, but within the Station F community, we have a little YC help club that seems to have taken pace.”

Station F startups hoping to join YC can request advice from peers who have already succeeded. Before this batch, other alumni of both Station F and YC included Actiondesk (YC S19), Dashblock (YC S19), ClipDrop (YC W21) and Whaly (YC S21), it said.

In total, some 50 French startups have joined YC to date, starting with Motionlead in the W14 batch — not counting a company like Front, whose founders are French but based in the U.S.

It is too early to tell whether YC will keep on selecting as many French startups as it just did, but it clearly has been choosing more and more since 2014, with a net increase since COVID. Plus, the fact that the number hasn’t declined despite a smaller batch size is significant.

The number of countries represented at YC hasn’t declined as quickly as batch size, either. But as we reported, “the Summer 2022 class has startups from 34 countries, down from the 42 countries in the Winter 2022 cohort.”

At the time, the accelerator had highlighted that New Zealand, Sudan, Uganda, and Costa Rica were represented for the first time. And now that we see the snowball effect that French YC alumni had on fellow startups, it feels like a shame that the same won’t happen to even more countries just yet. But who knows, maybe the next batch will be more geographically distributed?

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(Update: An earlier version of this newsletter post stated that three out of the eight French companies in YC’s S22 batch were former Station F residents. After publication, Station F informed us that there was a fourth one: NewsCatcher.)