Silicon Valley’s New Long-Term Thinking

Danielle Beurteaux

Y Combinator’s Sam Altman recently announced the launch of YC Research, a new nonprofit venture that will focus on finding solutions for some of the world’s problems. The organization will fund small research groups investigating big ideas. The resulting intellectual property will be free and openly available, in a bid to encourage collaboration.

As Altman wrote in his blog post, funding for research keeps decreasing, and “we are dependent on the unpredictable breakthrough jumps to drive humanity forward. Technology startups today work very well for making a super-efficient piston engine, but they are unlikely to fund the kind of open-ended R+D required to develop a jet engine.”

And they’re thinking long-term: “If some of these projects take 25 years, that’s perfectly fine with us,” he wrote.

The startup language is there, and the technology, but the goal is a bit different. Looking beyond the next-best tech thing, there are signs Silicon Valley is beginning to take the long view and measuring potential success in numbers of lives changed instead of funding raised or IPO share price. Altman threw $10 million in the pot to get YC Research off the ground.

Support for nonprofit tech startups is growing, aiming to fill a niche for new companies that don’t fit neatly into either the nonprofit word, or the startup world. Last year, Fast Forward was founded in San Francisco to address that problem, offering programs to help social nonprofits get off the ground.

But because there’s no equity available in a nonprofit, the financial focus is on grants, donations, and boards. Regardless, support is still coming in from industry hard-hitters like Facebook’s Andrew McCollum, and McCollum told Mashable: “It’s refreshing to hear from people who are pursuing solutions to problems, rather than just pursuing a business that makes a lot of money.”

Want more on smart business strategies that also help improve lives? See How One Business Can Save The Environment — And Bring $4.5 Trillion To The World Economy.


Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.