These are the most successful companies to emerge from Y Combinator

A look at the 20 most successful companies to come out of Y Combinator.

Earlier this month, Brex, a credit card provider to startups, announced it had raised $125 million at a $1.1 billion valuation.

The round was impressive for a couple of reasons: The founders are a pair of 22-year-olds that had set out to build a virtual reality company before pivoting to payments, and they had only completed Y Combinator, a well-known Silicon Valley startup accelerator, the year prior.

Y Combinator is responsible for many successes in the startup world, certainly more than its fellow accelerators, which are all known to provide early-stage companies with a seed investment — in YC’s case, $150,000 — mentorship and educational resources through a short-term program that culminates in a demo day.

Today, YC has released the latest list of its most successful companies since it began backing startups in 2005. Ranked by valuation and/or market cap, Brex, sure enough, is the youngest company to crack the top 20:

  1. Airbnb: An online travel community and room-sharing platform founded by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk. Valuation: $31 billion. YC W2009.
  2. Stripe: A provider of an online payment processing system for internet businesses founded by John and Patrick Collison. Valuation: $20 billion. YC S2009.
  3. Cruise: Acquired by GM in 2006, the company is building autonomous vehicles. It was founded by Kyle Vogt and Daniel Kan. Valuation: $14 billion. YC W2014.
  4. Dropbox: A file hosting service and workplace collaboration platform founded by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi that went public in March. Market cap: >$10 billion. YC S2007.
  5. Instacart: A grocery and home essentials delivery service founded by Apoorva Mehta, Max Mullen and Brandon Leonardo. Valuation: $7.6 billion. YC S2012.
  6. Machine Zone: A mobile games company, founded by Mike Sherrill, Gabriel Leydon and Halbert Nakagawa, known for “Game of War.” Valuation: >$5 billion. YC W2008.
  7. DoorDash: An app-based food delivery service founded by Tony Xu, Stanley Tang and Andy Fang. Valuation: $4 billion. YC S2013.
  8. Zenefits: The provider of human resources software for small and medium-sized businesses founded by Laks Srini and Parker Conrad. Valuation: $2 billion. YC W2013.
  9. Gusto: The provider of software that automates and simplifies payroll for businesses, founded by Josh Reeves, Tomer London and Edward Kim. Valuation: $2 billion. YC W2012.
  10.  Reddit: An online platform for conversation and thousands of communities founded by Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman. Valuation: $1.8 billion. YC S2005.
  11.  Coinbase: A digital cryptocurrency exchange and wallet platform founded by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam. Valuation ~$1.6 billion. YC S2012.
  12.  PagerDuty: A digital ops management platform for businesses founded by Baskar Puvanathasan, Andrew Miklas and Alex Solomon. Valuation: $1.3 billion. YC S2012.
  13.  Docker: A platform for applications that gives developers the freedom to build, manage and secure business-critical applications, founded by Solomon Hykes and Sebastien Pahl. Valuation: $1.3 billion. YC S2010.
  14.  Ginkgo Bioworks: A biotech company focused on designing custom microbes founded by Reshma Shetty, Jason Kelly, Barry Canton and others. Valuation: >$1 billion. YC S2014.
  15.  Rappi: A Latin American on-demand delivery startup founded by Felipe Villamarin, Simon Borrero and Sebastian Mejia. Valuation: >$1 billion. YC W2016.
  16.  Brex: A B2B financial startup that provides corporate cards to startups. Its founders include Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi. Valuation: $1.1 billion. YC W2017.
  17.  GitLab: A developer service founded by Sid Sijbrandij and Dmitriy Zaporozhets that aims to offer a full lifecycle DevOps platform. Valuation: $1.1 billion. YC W2015.
  18.  Twitch: An Amazon-acquired live-streaming platform for video games used by millions. Its founders include Emmett Shear, Justin Kan, Michael Seibel and Kyle Vogt. YC W2007.
  19.  Flexport: A logistics company that moves freight globally by air, ocean, rail and truck founded by Ryan Petersen. Valuation: ~$1 billion. YC W2014.
  20.  Mixpanel: A user analytics platform that helps each person at a business understand its users, founded by Suhail Doshi and Tim Trefren. Valuation: >$865 million. YC S2009.

The full list of Y Combinator’s 100 most successful companies is available here.

These are the most successful companies to emerge from Y Combinator

A look at the 20 most successful companies to come out of Y Combinator.

Earlier this month, Brex, a credit card provider to startups, announced it had raised $125 million at a $1.1 billion valuation.

The round was impressive for a couple of reasons: The founders are a pair of 22-year-olds that had set out to build a virtual reality company before pivoting to payments, and they had only completed Y Combinator, a well-known Silicon Valley startup accelerator, the year prior.

Y Combinator is responsible for many successes in the startup world, certainly more than its fellow accelerators, which are all known to provide early-stage companies with a seed investment — in YC’s case, $150,000 — mentorship and educational resources through a short-term program that culminates in a demo day.

Today, YC has released the latest list of its most successful companies since it began backing startups in 2005. Ranked by valuation and/or market cap, Brex, sure enough, is the youngest company to crack the top 20:

  1. Airbnb: An online travel community and room-sharing platform founded by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk. Valuation: $31 billion. YC W2009.
  2. Stripe: A provider of an online payment processing system for internet businesses founded by John and Patrick Collison. Valuation: $20 billion. YC S2009.
  3. Cruise: Acquired by GM in 2006, the company is building autonomous vehicles. It was founded by Kyle Vogt and Daniel Kan. Valuation: $14 billion. YC W2014.
  4. Dropbox: A file hosting service and workplace collaboration platform founded by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi that went public in March. Market cap: >$10 billion. YC S2007.
  5. Instacart: A grocery and home essentials delivery service founded by Apoorva Mehta, Max Mullen and Brandon Leonardo. Valuation: $7.6 billion. YC S2012.
  6. Machine Zone: A mobile games company, founded by Mike Sherrill, Gabriel Leydon and Halbert Nakagawa, known for “Game of War.” Valuation: >$5 billion. YC W2008.
  7. DoorDash: An app-based food delivery service founded by Tony Xu, Stanley Tang and Andy Fang. Valuation: $4 billion. YC S2013.
  8. Zenefits: The provider of human resources software for small and medium-sized businesses founded by Laks Srini and Parker Conrad. Valuation: $2 billion. YC W2013.
  9. Gusto: The provider of software that automates and simplifies payroll for businesses, founded by Josh Reeves, Tomer London and Edward Kim. Valuation: $2 billion. YC W2012.
  10.  Reddit: An online platform for conversation and thousands of communities founded by Alexis Ohanian and Steve Huffman. Valuation: $1.8 billion. YC S2005.
  11.  Coinbase: A digital cryptocurrency exchange and wallet platform founded by Brian Armstrong and Fred Ehrsam. Valuation ~$1.6 billion. YC S2012.
  12.  PagerDuty: A digital ops management platform for businesses founded by Baskar Puvanathasan, Andrew Miklas and Alex Solomon. Valuation: $1.3 billion. YC S2012.
  13.  Docker: A platform for applications that gives developers the freedom to build, manage and secure business-critical applications, founded by Solomon Hykes and Sebastien Pahl. Valuation: $1.3 billion. YC S2010.
  14.  Ginkgo Bioworks: A biotech company focused on designing custom microbes founded by Reshma Shetty, Jason Kelly, Barry Canton and others. Valuation: >$1 billion. YC S2014.
  15.  Rappi: A Latin American on-demand delivery startup founded by Felipe Villamarin, Simon Borrero and Sebastian Mejia. Valuation: >$1 billion. YC W2016.
  16.  Brex: A B2B financial startup that provides corporate cards to startups. Its founders include Henrique Dubugras and Pedro Franceschi. Valuation: $1.1 billion. YC W2017.
  17.  GitLab: A developer service founded by Sid Sijbrandij and Dmitriy Zaporozhets that aims to offer a full lifecycle DevOps platform. Valuation: $1.1 billion. YC W2015.
  18.  Twitch: An Amazon-acquired live-streaming platform for video games used by millions. Its founders include Emmett Shear, Justin Kan, Michael Seibel and Kyle Vogt. YC W2007.
  19.  Flexport: A logistics company that moves freight globally by air, ocean, rail and truck founded by Ryan Petersen. Valuation: ~$1 billion. YC W2014.
  20.  Mixpanel: A user analytics platform that helps each person at a business understand its users, founded by Suhail Doshi and Tim Trefren. Valuation: >$865 million. YC S2009.

The full list of Y Combinator’s 100 most successful companies is available here.

Startup accelerators helped spark Latin America’s tech boom

Five years ago, no startups from Latin America were participating in prestigious U.S. accelerators. It seemed that Latin America was not yet on anyone’s radar. Nowadays, dozens of Latin American startups, principally from Colombia, are joining U.S. accelerators.

Five years ago, no startups from Latin America were participating in prestigious U.S. accelerators like 500 Startups or Y Combinator. In fact, no Latin American startup reached the renowned Silicon Valley accelerator, Y Combinator, until 2015, when Colombia’s Platzi was invited to join.

It seemed that Latin America was not yet on anyone’s radar at the big global accelerators. At the time, 500 Startups in Silicon Valley was one of the only global accelerators that was paying attention to Latin America. 500 Startups’ first Latin American startup investment was Chile’s Welcu in Batch 2 (2011), followed by Brazil’s ContaAzul in Batch 3 (2012) and Mexico’s Yogome and Brazil’s Ingresse in Batch 4 (2012). Alongside fashion platform Femeninas, we were one of the first startups based in Argentina to be accepted into the program in 2012.

500 Startups has since focused on forging partnerships and investing in startups in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Peru.

Nowadays, dozens of Latin American startups, principally from Colombia, are joining U.S. accelerators. Since 2016, Rappi, UBits, Ropeo, Hogaru and Tributi have entered Y Combinator from Colombia, while RunaHR, Grin, BrainHi and Fintual have brought Mexico, Puerto Rico and Chile into the YC network, as well. Over the past five years, global and local accelerator programs have taken hold across Latin America. What’s more, we’re starting to see many specialized programs emerge and focus on accelerating companies in specific sectors, such as agtech, fintech and social impact. Here’s how the role of the accelerator is evolving in Latin America.

The inflection point: Start-Up Chile and NXTP Labs

When Start-Up Chile launched in 2010, it became the darling of the Latin American tech ecosystem. In dozens of articles, Start-Up Chile is known as the “spark that ignited Latin America’s startup ecosystem,” and is often identified as the inspiration for government acceleration programs worldwide. Among programs in Latin America that arose from the Start-Up Chile “spark” are Startup Peru, Parallel 18, IncuBAte, Startup Mexico, Ruta N and 21212.

However, there are two other local accelerator programs that arose around the same period, without as much global publicity as Start-Up Chile. 500 Startups Mexico City and NXTP Labs launched their local acceleration programs in 2010 and 2011, respectively, focusing on Spanish-speaking Latin American startups at a time when Start-Up Chile was still only focused on accelerating foreign enterprises. Of the 16 startups that graduated from NXTP Labs’ second group, 13 were from Latin America, 10 of which were specifically founded in Argentina.

Accelerators are now one of the top ways for Latin American startups to secure funding and reach international markets.

We went through NXTP Labs’ accelerator program in 2014, after they had successfully graduated dozens of local companies. But even before they became one of the region’s top private accelerators, NXTP Labs was one of the most active early-stage investors in Latin America. To date, there are still very few fully private venture capital funds in Latin America, including NXTP Labs, Magma Partners and Kaszek Ventures.

Since they began, Start-Up Chile, NXTP Labs and 500 Startups Latam have accelerated more than 2,000 startups in total, generating millions of dollars in revenue and investment, and creating hundreds of jobs across Latin America and beyond.

More importantly, they created the impetus for a steady wave of startup accelerators to enter the Latin American ecosystem.

The newcomers: industry-specific accelerators

In the past few years, accelerators of all kinds have cropped up in Latin America to provide mentorship, support and investment for startups as they grow. However, the regional trend has been to shift away from general support (i.e. the Start-Up Chile model) toward more specialized, industry-specific acceleration. Even NXTP Labs has pivoted its accelerator programs, focusing almost exclusively on fintech and agtech startups in Latin America, as they believe these two fields provide a competitive advantage in the local markets.

The new tendency toward specialization has led to the rise of programs such as The Yield Lab, an Argentine agtech accelerator, Chilean Bci Labs, focused on fintech, and Startupbootcamp’s new fintech program in Mexico City.

According to Gust’s Latin American accelerator report, more than half (58 percent) of startup accelerators in the region are focused on a specific vertical rather than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.

Most of the government-funded accelerators, such as Startup Mexico, Parallel 18, Ruta N and Startup Peru, still support startups from every sector. MassChallenge Mexico also allows startups from any industry to apply for acceleration.

What’s next: bringing women into entrepreneurship

While fintech, agtech, blockchain and other hot industries have gotten their share of the limelight, there is still a massive elephant in the room (or the co-working space) in Latin America: the lack of women. A random sampling of 50 startups selected for accelerator programs this year in Latin America revealed just 28 percent had female founders.

A recent blog found just four incubator and accelerator programs that are specifically targeted toward enabling female founders in Latin America: Empoderando Mujeres in Mexico, Capital Abeja and The S Factory in Chile, and WIN Lab, which is actually based in Miami.

This vertical is one that is missing from the conversation in Latin America, and the world. Women make up just 17 percent of startup founders and receive only 2 percent of VC dollars, but it is estimated that fully incorporating women into entrepreneurship could boost the global GDP by US$12 trillion.

A lot has changed in Latin America since we launched our company and entered our first accelerator in 2012. Dozens of global accelerators and companies looking to support and invest in Latin American companies are joining the local accelerators that paved the way, such as Start-Up Chile and NXTP Labs.

More than ever before, the prestigious accelerator programs, such as Y Combinator in Silicon Valley and other programs across Europe and the U.S., are accepting startups from Latin America. Local accelerators are refining their strategies and focusing primarily on niche industries, such as agtech and fintech, to tap into Latin America’s competitive advantages. Accelerators are now one of the top ways for Latin American startups to secure funding and reach international markets. While there are still gaps to fill, it’s been rewarding to watch these programs develop and succeed in the region.

NYC wants to build a cyber army

Empires rise and fall, and none more so than business empires. Whole industries that once dominated the planet are just a figment in memory’s eye, while new industries quietly grow into massive behemoths. New York City has certainly seen its share of empires. Today, the city is a global center of finance, real estate, legal […]

Empires rise and fall, and none more so than business empires. Whole industries that once dominated the planet are just a figment in memory’s eye, while new industries quietly grow into massive behemoths.

New York City has certainly seen its share of empires. Today, the city is a global center of finance, real estate, legal services, technology, and many, many more industries. It hosts the headquarters of roughly 10% of the Fortune 500, and the metro’s GDP is roughly equivalent to that of Canada.

So much wealth and power, and all under constant attack. The value of technology and data has skyrocketed, and so has the value of stealing and disrupting the services that rely upon it. Cyber crime and cyber wars are adding up: according to a report published jointly between McAfee and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the costs of these operations are in the hundreds of billions of dollars – and New York’s top industries such as financial services bare the brunt of the losses.

Yet, New York City has hardly been a bastion for the cybersecurity industry. Boston and Washington DC are far stronger today on the Acela corridor, and San Francisco and Israel have both made huge impacts on the space. Now, NYC’s leaders are looking to build a whole new local empire that might just act as a bulwark for its other leading ecosystems.

Today, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) announced the launch of Cyber NYC, a $30 million “catalyzing” investment designed to rapidly grow the city’s ecosystem and infrastructure for cybersecurity.

James Patchett, CEO of New York City Economic Development Corporation. (Photo from NYCEDC)

James Patchett, CEO of NYCEDC, explained in an interview with TechCrunch that cybersecurity is “both an incredible opportunity and also a huge threat.” He noted that “the financial industry has been the lifeblood of this city for our entire history,” and the costs of cybercrime are rising quickly. “It’s a lose-lose if we fail to invest in the innovation that keeps the city strong” but “it’s a win if we can create all of that innovation here and the corresponding jobs,” he said.

The Cyber NYC program is made up of a constellation of programs:

  • Partnering with Jerusalem Venture Partners, an accelerator called Hub.NYC will develop enterprise cybersecurity companies by connecting them with advisors and customers. The program will be hosted in a nearly 100,000 square foot building in SoHo.
  • Partnering with SOSA, the city will create a new, 15,000 square foot Global Cyber Center co-working facility in Chelsea, where talented individuals in the cyber industry can hang out and learn from each other through event programming and meetups.
  • With Fullstack Academy and Laguardia Community College, a Cyber Boot Camp will be created to enhance the ability of local workers to find jobs in the cybersecurity space.
  • Through an “Applied Learning Initiative,” students will be able to earn a “CUNY-Facebook Master’s Degree” in cybersecurity. The program has participation from the City University of New York, New York University, Columbia University, Cornell Tech, and iQ4.
  • With Columbia University’s Technology Ventures, NYCEDC will introduce a program called Inventors to Founders that will work to commercialize university research.

NYCEDC’s map of the NYC Cyber initiative. (Photo from NYCEDC)

In addition to Facebook, other companies have made commitments to the program, including Goldman Sachs, MasterCard, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and edX.org. Two Goldman execs, Chief Operational Risk Officer Phil Venables and Chief Information Security Officer Andy Ozment, have joined the initiative’s advisory boards.

The NYCEDC estimates that there are roughly 6,000 cybersecurity professionals currently employed in New York City. Through these programs, it estimates that the number could increase by another 10,000. Patchett said that “it is as close to a no-brainer in economic development because of the opportunity and the risk.”

From Jerusalem to New York

To tackle its ambitious cybersecurity goals, the NYCEDC is partnering with two venture firms, Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) and SOSA, with significant experience investing, operating, and growing companies in the sector.

Jerusalem-based JVP is an established investor that should help founders at Hub.NYC get access to smart capital, sector expertise, and the entrepreneurial experience needed to help their startups scale. JVP invests in early-, late-, and growth-stage companies focused on cybersecurity, big data, media, and enterprise software.

JVP will run Hub.NYC, a startup accelerator that will help cybersecurity startups connect with customers and mentors. (Photo from JVP)

Erel Margalit, who founded the firm in 1993, said that “If you look at what JVP has done … we create ecosystems.” Working with Jerusalem’s metro government, Margalit and the firm pioneered a number of institutions such as accelerators that turned Israel into an economic powerhouse in the cybersecurity industry. His social and economic work eventually led him to the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral legislature, where he served as an MP from 2015-2017 with the Labor Party.

Israel is a very small country with a relative dearth of large companies though, a huge challenge for startups looking to scale up. “Today if you want to build the next-generation leading companies, you have to be not only where the ideas are being brewed, but also where the solutions are being [purchased],” Margalit explained. “You need to be working with the biggest customers in the world.”

That place, in his mind, is New York City. It’s a city he has known since his youth – he worked at Moshe’s Moving IN NYC while attending Columbia as a grad student where he got his PhD in philosophy. Now, he can pack up his own success from Israel and scale it up to an even larger ecosystem.

Since its founding, JVP has successfully raised $1.1 billion across eight funds, including a $60 million fund specifically focused on the cybersecurity space. Over the same period, the firm has seen 32 successful exits, including cybersecurity companies CyberArk (IPO in 2014) and CyActive (Acquired by PayPal in 2013).

JVP’s efforts in the cybersecurity space also go beyond the investment process, with the firm recently establishing an incubator, known as JVP Cyber Labs, specifically focused on identifying, nurturing and building the next wave of Israeli cybersecurity and big data companies.

On average, the firm has focused on deals in the $5-$10 million range, with a general proclivity for earlier-stage companies where the firm can take a more hands-on mentorship role. Some of JVP’s notable active portfolio companies include Source Defense, which uses automation to protect against website supply chain attacks, ThetaRay, which uses big data to analyze threats, and Morphisec, which sells endpoint security solutions.

Opening up innovation with SOSA

The self-described “open-innovation platform,” SOSA is a global network of corporations, investors, and entrepreneurs that connects major institutions with innovative startups tackling core needs.

SOSA works closely with its partner startups, providing investor sourcing, hands-on mentorship and the physical resources needed to achieve growth. The group’s areas of expertise include cybersecurity, fintech, automation, energy, mobility, and logistics. Though headquartered in Tel Aviv, SOSA recently opened an innovation lab in New York, backed by major partners including HP, RBC, and Jefferies.

With the eight-floor Global Cyber Center located in Chelsea, it is turning its attention to an even more ambitious agenda. Uzi Sheffer, CEO of SOSA, said to TechCrunch in a statement that “The Global Cyber Center will serve as a center of gravity for the entire cybersecurity industry where they can meet, interact and connect to the finest talent from New York, the States, Israel and our entire global network.”

SOSA’s new building in Chelsea will be a center for the cybersecurity community (Photo from SOSA)

With an already established presence in New York, SOSA’s local network could help spur the local corporate participation key to the EDC’s plan, while SOSA’s broader global network can help achieve aspirations of turning New York City into a global cybersecurity leader.

It is no coincidence that both of the EDC’s venture partners are familiar with the Israeli cybersecurity ecosystem. Israel has long been viewed as a leader in cybersecurity innovation and policy, and has benefited from the same successful public-private sector coordination New York hopes to replicate.

Furthermore, while New York hopes to create organic growth within its own local ecosystem, the partnerships could also benefit the city if leading Israeli cybersecurity companies look to relocate due to the limited size of the Israeli market.

Big plans, big results?

While we spent comparatively less time discussing them, the NYCEDC’s educational programs are particularly interesting. Students will be able to take classes at any university in the five-member consortium, and transfer credits freely, a concept that the NYCEDC bills as “stackable certificates.”

Meanwhile, Facebook has partnered with the City University of New York to create a professional master’s degree program to train up a new class of cybersecurity leaders. The idea is to provide a pathway to a widely-respected credential without having to take too much time off of work. NYCEDC CEO Patchett said, ”you probably don’t have the time to take two years off to do a masters program,” and so the program’s flexibility should provide better access to more professionals.

Together, all of these disparate programs add up to a bold attempt to put New York City on the map for cybersecurity. Talent development, founder development, customer development – all have been addressed with capital and new initiatives.

Will the community show up at initiatives like the Global Cyber Center, pictured here? (Photo from SOSA)

Yet, despite the time that NYCEDC has spent to put all of these partners together cohesively under one initiative, the real challenge starts with getting the community to participate and build upon these nascent institutions. “What we hear from folks a lot of time,” Patchett said to us, is that “there is no community for cyber professionals in New York City.” Now the buildings have been placed, but the people need to walk through the front doors.

The city wants these programs to be self-sustaining as soon as possible. “In all cases, we don’t want to support these ecosystems forever,” Patchett said. “If we don’t think they’re financially sustainable, we haven’t done our job right.” He believes that “there should be a natural incentive to invest once the ecosystem is off the ground.”

As the world encounters an ever increasing array of cyber threats, old empires can falter – and new empires can grow. Cybersecurity may well be one of the next great industries, and it may just provide the needed defenses to ensure that New York City’s other empires can live another day.

Solve, MIT’s take on social innovation challenges, may be different enough to work

Since McKinsey released a report on how best to use prizes to incentivize innovation nearly a decade ago, an entire industry has grown around social innovation challenges. The formula for these “save the world” competitions has become standard. Drum up a lot of buzz around an award. Partner with big names to get funding and […]

Since McKinsey released a report on how best to use prizes to incentivize innovation nearly a decade ago, an entire industry has grown around social innovation challenges. The formula for these “save the world” competitions has become standard. Drum up a lot of buzz around an award. Partner with big names to get funding and high-profile judges. Try and get as many submissions as possible from across the world. Whittle down the submissions and come up with a list of finalists that get to pitch at a glitzy event with a lot of media attention.

On the final stage, based on pitches that last for mere minutes, judges typically pick one winner that can get upwards of millions in prize funding. Don’t have a software platform to run a challenge of this kind? No worries, numerous for-profit vendors have sprung up that can do all the work for you—for anywhere from ten to a few hundred thousand dollars. The growth has been so exponential that prizes awarded through competitions has grown from less than $20 million in 1970 to a whopping $375 million just four decades later.

But do these prizes get the sort of world-saving results they aim for? There’s little quantified evidence to back that, and some leaders in philanthropy are broadly skeptical.

For its part, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is trying a different approach to innovation challenges with Solve, taking some of what’s worked in these challenges and fusing it with elements of tech accelerator programs, including a post-award training program that focuses on results.

Solve is entering an already crowded field of innovation challenges. Many of these prizes overlap, with each vying to be the “Nobel” of its field. More prizes means more noise—which has led to a race to offer more money to get attention.

But even private-sector riches do not guarantee that prize money for innovation gets good results. In 2004, Bigelow Enterprises sponsored a $50 million Space Prize but it failed to capture the imagination of space researchers and eventually folded. Back in 2009, Netflix invited outside teams to improve it movie recommendation algorithm by 10% for a $1 million reward. The Netflix Prize led to a race among programmers, only for Netflix to eventually kill the entire plan because it was getting better results in-house.

Overall, the social innovation competitions tend to reward presentation, glitz and charisma, and penalize speaking English as a second language, introversion and inability to make flashy slides.

Now let’s take a look at Solve, which held its third annual finalists event on Sunday September 23 in New York.

Unlike other contests where questions are internally decided, Solve crowdsources the questions to begin with. Its team takes months to run hackathons and workshops around the world to decide on the four most pressing questions to become the focus of that year’s challenge. This year, the questions focused on teachers and educators, workforce of the future, frontlines of health and coastal communities.

The competition is then opened up to participants from around the world with relatively low barriers to entry, resulting in 1,150 submissions from 110 countries in the last competition round. (That’s at least one submission from nearly 60 percent of all countries in the world.)

The prize recipients of the GM Prize for Advanced Technology. Photo: Adam Schultz | MIT Solve

To qualify, though, participants need to have more than just an idea. They must have a prototype that works, be either in the growth, pilot or scale stage, and be tech-driven. Submissions are then evaluated by judges from across industry, intergovernmental organizations and academia to get to 15 finalists for eac