The participation of international founders, particularly from India and Southeast Asia, in Y Combinator’s recent cohort has declined significantly. This trend has caught attention as the S23 batch features over 200 startups, with a majority focusing on AI applications. However, only one startup from India/Southeast Asia made it into YC’s official directory this time.
The declining participation of Indian and Southeast Asian startups in Y Combinator’s recent cohort is attributed to the challenges faced by international founders in obtaining visas. The shift to in-person events and the US government’s increased visa scrutiny have made it harder for founders from these regions to participate in the YC program. These challenges highlight the need for policy changes and a broader focus by YC to maintain its appeal in the region.
Visa Challenges Hindering Participation
The decline in participation can be attributed to the shift back to in-person events by Y Combinator, which now requires founders to relocate to the United States for a three-month period. According to a YC spokesperson, the inability of international founders to obtain visas has become a major hurdle. The US government’s increased visa scrutiny, particularly for countries with high visa overstays, has made it harder for founders to secure visas. This issue is further compounded by the reduction in visa slots for Indian citizens.
Notably, the founders of GigaML, renowned researchers who trained Llama2 to beat Anthropic Claude 2, were denied visas twice by US Immigration. Consequently, they had to attend office hours over Zoom instead. The YC spokesperson pointed out the need for policy change, emphasizing that many founders want to come to the US but are unable to do so.
Implications and Countermeasures
Many founders and investors agree with Y Combinator’s assessment, recognizing the importance of in-person interactions for the three-month YC program. However, some suggest that YC needs to broaden its focus in the region to prevent further decline in participation. Peak XV, a rival seed-focused program, is actively attracting local entrepreneurs by offering more favorable terms and resources tailored to the local context.
There are concerns among Indian startups regarding YC’s insistence on U.S. registration, which has proven to be a liability for some entities. Recent issues involving Silicon Valley Bank have adversely affected those Indian companies that relied on the bank for their finances. Additionally, as established Indian startups realign their operations back to India, they face significant tax repercussions.
Furthermore, the limited depth of AI startups in India has also played a role in the decline. However, despite these challenges, Y Combinator remains a highly sought-after program for startups around the world.