Y Combinator, the Silicon Valley startup incubator that helped Airbnb and Dropbox get their starts, is launching a nonprofit research organization dedicated to work on long-term problems that venture-backed businesses aren't good at solving. YC Research, as the group will be called, will work on more "open-ended questions," its website says, along with technologies "that shouldn't be owned by any one company."
Sam Altman, who leads Y Combinator, kickstarted the research group with $10 million of his own money. "At the risk of sounding cliché, this is for the benefit of the world," Altman wrote in a blog post. "As we've seen throughout history, new technological breakthroughs help all of us. Fundamental research is critical to driving the world forward, and funding for it keeps getting cut." In a nice twist, intellectual property generated by the researchers will be given away freely. The initial group of 10 researchers will be announced shortly, Altman said, and YC Research will seek additional funding from investors.
YC Research is an homage of sorts to Bell Labs, the storied incubator credited with developing the transistor, the laser, and UNIX, among other things. "We thought it would be fun as an experiment to try to create that environment today," Altman told The Information. It's also reminiscent of Google X, the experimental lab recently spun off into new parent company Alphabet. In any case, Altman says he's in it for the long haul — Y Combinator expects some of its research to take 25 years or more, he said.