Y Combinator is piloting a new program called “Open Office Hours” to connect with founders from underserved communities and give them direct access to YC partners either in-person or via Skype, depending on where the founders are based.
YC’s office hours effort is led Michael Seibel, the founder whose startup Twitch sold to Amazon for $970 million and whose startup Socialcam sold to Autodesk for $60 million. The idea for an office hours came from Seibel’s trip around the world to places like Morocco and Southeast Asia.
“It’s weird how you have to leave the states to understand what happens in the states,” Seilbel told me. “There’s a ton of interest in tech but the ecosystem isn’t set up right for people to succeed. There’s not a lack of talent or drive.”
When he returned to the U.S., he decided that he wanted to make YC more accessible.
“I’ve definitely heard that [founders from underserved groups] felt like YC wasn’t for them — they felt like it was on the ivory tower, which kills me,” Seibel said.
For now, the office hours are only open to black and Hispanic startup founders. Down the road, YC will host open office hours for women, veterans and founders who live outside of the U.S.
YC isn’t particularly known for having the most diverse group of founders. In YC’s Winter 2015 batch, 7 percent of the companies had a black founder, 5.26 percent of the startups had a Hispanic founder and 21 percent of the companies had a female founder. But the firm has made efforts over the last couple of years to be more inclusive through events like the Female Founders Conference, the YC Fellowship and now, Open Office Hours.
People tried to convince Seibel to host a conference or some other kind of event, Seibel said, but that wasn’t the approach he wanted to take.
“I wanted to do something personal,” Seibel said. “I’ve always felt like if you’re on the outside looking in, a half-hour phone call could mean the world to you. I started putting my email out there and started getting tons of people reaching out to me. I now do office hours with as many people outside of YC as those who are in YC.”
Ideally, YC is looking to chat with founders who have just started their company, are already working on an MVP, and have a team with a technical co-founder.
“That’s absolutely ideal,” Seibel said. “But I’m also imagining we’ll be talking to people who are just thinking about starting a company or are wondering how to recruit a technical co-founder.”
Most of the YC partners will be participating in the open office hours, Seibel said. After the office hours, there’s no guarantee that the startups will have a better chance of getting accepted into YC, but having connections which YC partners certainly won’t hurt their chances.
The first office hours will be next week, September 24-25, and will have space for 50 startup founders. Sign-ups begin today.