Do bigger checks lead to bigger swings? Y Combinator’s latest participants are the second batch to land a $500,00 check as part of the accelerator’s recently refreshed standard deal. And while the accelerator says it only looks at founders when investing in startups, not sector, category or idea, more money in the pipeline may be empowering enough to attract a different cohort of founders.
With this in mind, this year’s batch provides a glimpse on what a cohort of YC-approved founders are prioritizing amid a downturn, pandemic, high inflation and ongoing war. The results are diverse -- and we’ve already seen ways it’s impacting the future of fintech, crypto and artificial intelligence.
Below, TechCrunch decided to draw out the biggest moonshots of the batch, with the above factors in mind. Because we don’t all bet our potential legacies on faux fish during a looming recession. Without further ado, let’s get into who made the cut.
Beyond Beyond Meat: Numi’s faux fish
Brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible have shown there’s demand for fake meat that “bleeds,” but are hordes of fish-eaters prepared to dine on imitation crustaceans?
The plant-based seafood industry is teeny compared to the global seafood business today, but demand is on the rise as brands explore a range of ingredients to see what sticks — like tomato for tuna (Ocean Hugger) and konjac for scallops (The Plant Based Seafood Co). Joining the fray is Numi, a YC-backed startup that’s using a “combination of soy, pea and lentil protein” and “precision fermentation” to prepare something resembling shellfish.
Numi’s products are still in development, but the company is already boasting about a moonshot-sized goal — to capture 30% of the seafood market in 10 years. That’s a whole lot of potential mouths to feed; seafood consumption is poised to nearly double by 2050, per researchers at Stanford. But in light of the industry’s many environmental ills, including overfishing, trash, emissions and waste, it sure seems like a new wave of convincing faux fish companies would do some good.
Solving optimization problems with bespoke hardware
Optimization problems are the bane of many companies' existences. For example, shipping and logistics providers have to figure out on a daily basis which products can ship in which containers -- and indeed, how many containers they need in the first place. According to one source, 85% of Fortune 500 companies use mathematical optimization in their operations.
Enter Integrated Reasoning, a startup that claims to be developing hardware for solving these sorts of problems in the cloud. Founded by longtime engineers, there's little that's been made public about the company's plans. But the co-founders did reveal during Demo Day that they have an initial product targeting the knapsack problem, an optimization problem where, given a set of items -- each with a weight and value -- one must determine the number of items to include in a collection so that the total weight is less than or equal to a given limit and the total value is as large as possible.
Optimization problems might sound like an odd market around which to build a company. But there's clearly a customer base, and Integrated Reasoning is promising the moon. The company claims its hardware could make it up to 100x faster and 10x cheaper to solve problems like scheduling airline pilots or packing shipping containers, which -- if accurate -- might just enable Integrated Reasoning to make a splash in lucrative industries.
Flying for dummies
Learning to fly is a common bucket list item, but it is costly, time-consuming and difficult. This causes a large number of student pilots to drop out of training before they reach their dreams. And sadly, some of those who do get their license will end up having fatal accidents due to mistakes of theirs.
Airhart Aeronautics is working on building airplanes that are easier and safer to fly, thanks to semi-autonomous flight control systems that don't require "stick and rudder mastery." It's too early to tell when Airhart will reach product-market fit, but its proposal to "make flying to Tahoe as easy as driving to the grocery store" did sound like a strong audience fit for YC's Demo Day.
It may seem late to build airplanes anyone can fly when other startups are focusing on airplanes nobody has to fly. Companies working on delivering autonomous aircraft include Merlin Labs, Pyka, Reliable Robotics, Volocopter and Xwing, some of which are already far along in their journey. But we are still calling Airhart a moonshot, because semi-autonomy does seem to have better odds of landing on time than full autonomy, especially for private flying.
I’d like to buy 10% of your future earnings, please
It’s hard to be an athlete, and finding enough time and resources to become a professional athlete takes time and cash dollars. Moonshot is letting angel investors invest in the futures of athletes, in exchange for a share in their future prize money. It’s kind of similar to what Trendex is doing (although Trendex lets you invest in all sorts of talent -- including musicians).
So why is this a moonshot? Part of me can see this as the future; if you are a promising athlete, getting an early injection of cash could make or break your career, and I recognize that for some folks, this may be the only way to make their dreams come true.
Another part of me just can’t get over how fantastically bleak it is to essentially enable people to sell a part of their future net worth to investors. I know we are living in late-stage capitalism, but however I turn this, I can’t make this concept feel like anything but rent-seeking. I’m sure the founders didn’t specifically design their companies to make an unequal world even less equitable, but we’re one or two market cycles away from this getting truly grim.
Let's try this DTC healthcare thing again, but better this time
The direct-to-consumer healthcare space was hot, then not, as sector unicorns have scaled back ambitions upon hitting growth pains. That’s why I was surprised, then impressed to see Almond take the stage at Y Combinator Demo Day this week. Almond is a healthcare platform that is trying to make ObGyn care faster through in-person and telehealth services.
“We're rebuilding back-office tech that saves physicians time, and we're hiring a wider range of care providers roles, which let us deliver better outcomes to patients and reduce the amount of time it takes to get their issue resolved,” the company said via Y Combinator’s website. Membership for Almond is an annual $250 fee, similar to a OneMedical-type business model, and founding members get the first year for $150. Any visits and lab charges are billed to insurance.
The co-founders have a balance in backgrounds. Carly Allen, co-founder and chief brand officer, has been head of production for campaigns that help brands like Coca-Cola, Nike, Chipotle and Bonobos, while Tara Raffi, co-founder and CEO, has startup chops through building McKinsey’s internal tech incubator and consulting with large U.S. hospital systems. As we know from struggles faced at Ro, Hims and other platforms, the DTC healthcare space needs a good balance of smart, accessible branding and efficacy, so let’s see how Almond executes.
Future flight, fuck yeah
For my moonshot selection I want to highlight a few companies from the recent batch that have wings, and want to shake up moving stuff around.
When Boom came around, I figured it was a cool idea that would go precisely nowhere. But, to my incredibly excited chagrin, the company is still in business and has raised buckets of money. Perhaps there is a venture market for the future of flight.
Velontra wants to build a “hypersonic space plane,” which is a good idea. There’s less friction that high up, and you can zip around pretty quick without air holding you back. Velontra, sweetening the deal, wants its planes to be able to “takeoff from anywhere in any weather.” Excellent and perfect, no notes.
Seaflight Technologies is doing the opposite. Instead of wanting to fly very high and very fast, it wants to fly lower and slower. The company is building electric “autonomous wingships” that fly very close to the ground. Per its pitch, if I understood the regulatory nuance, being so close to the ground clears the air -- ha! -- when it comes to government oversight.
Naturally these companies will each require lots of capital, and have real tech risk to their makeup. But that’s what makes them good -- you can’t shake up flight without a bucket of money and a big vision. And while the 737 is great, and I will always be fond of it for shuttling me around my home country for so very long, and so very far, I am ready for something faster and higher. And for my delivered goods, the inverse.
Ult, which describes itself as an “Uber for gamers” startup. The startup charges users to get them matched with fun (or challenging) competitors. Also, it has a great website.
Drip, which describes itself as a “BNPL for Brazil.” The BNPL space is difficult for a variety of reasons, and to still be disrupting in the category -- despite public market rumblings -- is impressive. “While Affirm is creating the habit in the US, Brazilians already split in installments 30% of their retail payments,” the company said via Y Combinator’s website. “With Drip, they now split payments without eating into their credit card limits and earn better rewards.”
Coverage Cat, because it's a damn cute name and a damn difficult category to build in. But, selfishly, sign us up for consumer optimized insurance!