Y Combinator wants to revolutionize science funding the way it has revolutionized funding tech startups. The company has announced it will build and fund its own non-profit research lab.

Defying the idea that valuation and profit are YC’s central concerns, company president Sam Altman writes in a post on the YC blog that YC Research will fund the sort of basic science that doesn’t tend to attract a lot of investor attention.

“Startups aren’t ideal for some kinds of innovation — for example, work that requires a very long time horizon, seeks to answer very open-ended questions, or develops technology that shouldn’t be owned by any one company,” writes Altman in a blog post.

“We’re not doing this with the goal of helping YC’s startups succeed or adding to our bottom line. At the risk of sounding cliché, this is for the benefit of the world. 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.”

Altman says he will personally donate $10 million to get the research lab on its feet. Y Combinator has provided seed funding for companies like Dropbox, Scribd, reddit, AirBnb, Zenefits, and many, many others.

What exactly will be funded is still uncertain. The first research team will be announced in the next month or two, according to the post.

“We’ll especially welcome outsiders working on slightly heretical ideas (just like we do for the startups we fund) and we’ll try to keep things small — we believe small groups can do far more than most people think. Also, smallness usually means less politics, which has plagued science in recent decades.”

Any intellectual property developed at the lab will be made freely available. “Compensation and power for the researchers will not be driven by publishing lots of low-impact papers or speaking at lots of conferences — that whole system seems broken,” writes Altman. “Instead, we will focus on the quality of the output.

“We plan to do this for a long time. If some of these projects take 25 years, that’s perfectly fine with us.”


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