Y Combinator and Watsi

Paul Graham writes about Y Combinator’s first nonprofit, Watsi:

Y Combinator is trying something new this batch: we’re including a nonprofit along with the for-profit startups we’re funding. Meet Watsi, where donors can fund medical treatments for people in need.

We’d been thinking about including nonprofits in YC. After we met the founders of Watsi, we realized they’d be the perfect one to start with….

After about 30 seconds of looking at the site, I realized I was looking at one of the more revolutionary things I’d seen the Internet used for. Technology can now put a face on need. The people who need help around the world are individuals, not news photos, and when you see them as individuals it’s hard to ignore them.

This is really interesting. Watsi (a sort of Kickstarter for medical treatments in the developing world) seems like a great idea, well executed. But what I really like about this is the potential for synergy between Y Combinator startups and nonprofits.

Though prominent contributions from Mark Zuckerberg and other wealthy technologists are changing the picture somewhat, Silicon Valley has a reputation for lacking in philanthropy. There’s something of an Objectivist streak running through the founder class.

Imagine if Y Combinator had a nonprofit in every batch. A new crop of founders would be exposed to charity from the beginning. A nonprofit has a completely different perspective than a startup focused on becoming “the next Google” – which can get expressed in shenanigans. Hopefully, some of the nonprofit’s pro-social perspective would rub off on the startups.

There could be great benefits for the nonprofits, too. Presumably, any nonprofits selected by Y Combinator would be like Watsi: small and tech-savvy, like a startup. Any group like that would benefit from being part of the Y Combinator process and alumni network, plus, as Graham points out in comments about Watsi, there are a lot of rich people to pitch to on Demo Day. The nonprofit world as a whole is rather stodgy and old fashioned, so an injection of startup-like nonprofits could really shake things up.