Tech Founders Around the World Attend Startup School

When Goktug Yilmaz, a game developer in Ankara, Turkey, wanted help with his business, he turned to Y Combinator, a prestigious startup accelerator firm in Mountain View, California.

Yilmaz recently completed Y Combinator’s first free online course, called Startup School. He was among 7,000 founders from more than 140 countries who participated.

“You talk, you get feedback,” he said, about why he wanted to be part of Startup School. “Just seeing this process would help us get better on focusing on our goals.”

Y Combinator is known for its competitive twice-yearly program that brings companies to Mountain View, California, for 10 intensive weeks of training and advice. Founders receive mentoring from its alumni network that includes such companies as Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit and Instacart.

YC arrangement for startups

As part of the arrangement, YC, as it is known, invests $120,000 in each startup for 7 percent of common stock. The program culminates in Demo Day, when participants give their pitches to a room full of potential investors.

Since it was founded in 2005, Y Combinator has worked with more than 4,000 founders.

But just 2 percent of applicants make it into Y Combinator’s program. Yilmaz was one of those who tried but didn’t make it.

Then, Yilmaz heard about Y Combinator’s effort to expand its reach with Startup School. He signed up.

Steven Pham, who helps run Startup School, said the firm wanted to reach entrepreneurs beyond Silicon Valley.

“Internet access has been only something people have access to very recently in a lot of these markets,” Pham said. “In a lot of these communities where startups are super, super early, we wanted to get in there and help them learn best practices … best ways to think about building their product, best ways to think about sales strategies and market.”

The demand for Startup School surprised Y Combinator, Pham said. More than 13,000 companies and nearly 20,000 founders applied. The firm had to limit the first class to 3,000 companies and about 7,000 founders so that it could provide enough alumni advisers.

Ti Zhao, a Y Combinator alumnus, was a mentor to 30 companies during Startup School.

“People kind of have this idea of Silicon Valley as where the startups are at and it’s really cool for me to see so many diverse companies from so many places around the world,” she said.

Online pitches

Startup School culminates with Presentation Day, when entrepreneurs around the world make their pitches online. The aim isn’t necessarily to woo investors but to present a prototype of an idea in a clear and succinct way.

It included pitches from war-torn Syria, where one group is teaching children how to create circuits.

Others applied technology to fields such as transportation, travel and education. SocialEyeze, based in Sudan, is trying to help the blind engage on social media more easily. 

“I’ve learned many useful skills, and those skills appeared in the modifications we made on our solution,” Hussam Eldeen Hassan with Socialeyeze said.

In the end, about 56 percent of the first Startup School class, or 1,580 firms, completed the course.

Y Combinator plans to expand the number of companies it can include when it does Startup School again, currently slated for early next year.

“In Startup School, we made a bunch of friends from the online chat,” Yilmaz said. “We are probably going to continue those friendships with other founders.”

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