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Y Combinator Demo Day to remain virtual and will be streamed live

After feedback from the investor and founder communities, Y Combinator is making a change to how it does Demo Days in a remote world. The accelerator announced today that it will keep its two-day Demo Day virtual, but instead of offering pre-recorded pitches on-demand, the entire program will be streamed live.

In an e-mail, Y Combinator said the feedback was that “founders enjoyed the bonding experience involved in prepping for a live demo day and investors like seeing the founder pitch their businesses personally.”

“We’ve decided that a live Demo Day is an important part of founders’ YC experience,” Michael Seibel, Y Combinator’s CEO, wrote in a blog post.

The thirty-first Demo Day will be live over Zoom, splitting the batch between two days. Each company will have one minute to present, with a single-slide summary, description and team bio available on the website for attendees to peruse. If you can’t attend, recordings will be published at the end of the week.

The accelerator told TechCrunch that presentations will kick off at 9 a.m. PST and end at noon, with breaks scheduled throughout the day. Similar to past Demo Days, investors will be able to indicate interest in investing and share contact information with founders through YC Demo Day software.

Startups that deferred Demo Day in years past will present at the upcoming Demo Day. Deferring to present on Demo Day is fairly common and happens when founders are not yet ready to present their startup to the VC and tech press community. In a remote world, some startups may opt for this route until things turn back to normal (if that ever happens, of course).

For founders participating in remote accelerators, a question remains: Is the new format worth the equity? Y Combinator says that the most recent cohort is the first batch to participate in an entirely remote program, run entirely through the COVID-19 lockdown.

Founders recently shared with me the ups and downs of this accelerator season. One founder, Michael Vega-Sanz, recommends that first-time founders attend a physical accelerator instead of a virtual one for the energy it brings.

“If you’re a competitive person, like we were, you’ll see other companies kicking butt, getting praised in front of everybody,” he said. “I know this sounds a bit narcissistic, but we were like, ‘Damn, we really need to pick our game up.’ ” Peer competition might sound insignificant, but founders, much like investors, thrive on FOMO and rivalries.

Y Combinator going live feels like an attempt at bringing excitement and earnestness to the pitch experience. Techstars did a live, virtual demo day earlier in the pandemic, even bringing on Ice-T to congratulate the founders participating through a Cameo.

YC Demo Day will be August 24 and 25.

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Without desks and a demo day, are accelerators worth it?

As a result of the pandemic, accelerators have moved operations fully remote to abide by social distancing. The shift has forced well-known programs like 500 Startups, Y Combinator and Techstars to go fully online, while encouraging existing venture capital firms to launch new digital-only fellowships like Cleo Capital and NextView Ventures.

Before the pandemic, accelerators could advertise their value by lending desk space once used by Airbnb, Twilio and Brex’s co-founders, plus a glitzy demo day. Now, stripped of their in-person element, the actual value of an accelerator program — and the network they provide — is being tested in new ways.

So a question remains for participating founders: Are they getting the benefits of what they thought they signed up for?

In the Zoom where it happened

The last thing Michael Vega-Sanz wanted to do was was join another Zoom get-together for entrepreneurs. But the car-sharing company he co-founded with twin brother Matthew was in the middle of a pivot, so they joined NextView Ventures’ inaugural remote accelerator program.

“I envisioned an accelerator with awkward happy hours, mass Zoom calls,” Vega-Sanz said. Fast-forward one month into the program, he says it “has been quite the opposite.”

Before joining NextView’s accelerator, Vega-Sanz did an in-person incubator at Babson College in Boston, but there’s “a lot less fluff” in being virtual, he told TechCrunch.

“[With in-person] the reality was you’d go to lunch, and by the time you drove over there and had all your side talk, small talk, chit-chat and actually got into the nitty-gritty of the event, there was a lot of time loss,” he said. “You could have been working for your company during that time.”

If possible, Vega-Sanz still recommends that first-time founders attend a physical accelerator instead of a virtual one for the energy it brings, even with the downside of useless events.

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