Our
mission at YC is to enable as much innovation as we can.  Mostly this
means funding startups.  But 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.

We
think research institutions can be better than they are today.  So we’re
starting a new research lab, which we’re calling YC Research, to work on some
of these areas.

We’re
going to start YCR with one group (which we should be ready to announce in a
month or two) and if that goes well, we’ll add others. 

YCR
is a non-profit.  Any IP developed will be made available freely to
everyone.  (The researchers will, of course, have full discretion over
when they’re ready to release their work, and we’ll have a process in place to
address technology that could be dangerous.)  Because of the openness, the
researchers will be able to freely collaborate with people in other
institutions. 

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. [1] 

To
start off, I’m going to personally donate $10 million, and we will raise more
money for specific groups soon.

YCR
researchers will be full-time YC employees (instead of us making grants to
other organizations).  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.

The
researchers will have full access to YC and the YC network.  YC has a very
high problem flux at this point—we fund hundreds of companies per year.
 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.  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. 

We’re very excited to see what comes out of
this.

 

[1] Funding
for technological development is actually relatively high, but funding for
fundamental research keeps getting cut.  Investors want to fund
incremental progress—and the world has gotten very good at delivering that.  This is more valuable than it sounds;
incremental progress compounds quickly. 

But it’s not
all we need—we are dependent on the unpredictable breakthrough jumps to drive
humanity forward.  Technology startups
today work very well for making a super-efficient piston engine, but they are
unlikely to fund the kind of open-ended R+D required to develop a jet engine.