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The top 10 startups from Y Combinator’s Demo Day S18 Day 2

Fifty-nine startups took the stage at Y Combinator’s Demo Day 2 , and among the highlights were a company that helps developers manage in-app subscriptions; a service that lets you create animojis from real photos; and a surplus medical equipment-reselling platform. Oh… and there was also a company that’s developed an entirely new kind of life form using e coli bacteria. So yeah, that’s happening. Based on some investor buzz and what caught TechCrunch’s eye, these are our top picks from the second day of Y Combinator’s presentations. You can find the full list of companies that presented on Day 1 here , and our top picks from Day 1 here.  64-x With a founding team including some of the leading luminaries in the field of biologically inspired engineering (including George Church, Pamela Silver and Jeffrey Way from Harvard’s Wyss Institute),  64-x  is engineering organisms to function in otherwise inaccessible environments. Chief executive Alexis Rovner, herself a post-doctoral fellow at the Wyss Institute, and chief operating officer Ryan Gallagher, a former BCG Consultant, are looking to commercialize research from the Institute around accelerating and expanding the ability to produce functionalized proteins and sequence-defined polymers with diverse chemistries. Basically they’ve engineered a new life form that they want to use for novel kinds of bio-manufacturing. Why we liked it:  These geniuses invented a new life form. CB Therapeutics Sher Butt, a former lab directory at Steep Hill, saw that cannabinoids were as close to a miracle cure for pain, epilepsy and other chronic conditions as medicine was going to get. But plant-based cannabinoids were costly and produced inconsistent results. Alongside Jacob Vogan, Butt realized that biosynthesizing cannabinoids would reduce production costs by a factor of 10 and boost production 24 times current yields. With a deep experience commercializing drugs for Novartis and as the founder of the cannabis testing company SB Labs, Butt and his technical co-founder are uniquely positioned to bring this new therapy to market

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10 startups that caught our eye from day 1 of YC Demo Day S18

From new wearables that detect breast cancer to creating the industrial supply chain for the meat replacement industry, the latest crop of Y Combinator companies showcased the breadth of entrepreneurial innovation that encapsulates the waning days of 2018. While the entire batch of 63 companies was impressive, a few in particular caught our eye. So take a look below at our picks for some of the hits from this year’s summer cohort of companies. Oxygen Breaking freelancers from the month-to-month boom-and-bust payment cycles that bind them, Oxygen provides working capital loans to freelancers who can go months without getting a paycheck. The company is more than willing to work with a group of borrowers who collectively make $1.4 trillion in 1099 income annually and who are locked out of loans. Oxygen offers flat-fee access to credit and free mobile banking, all while using machine learning to determine credit worthiness. Freelance workers of the world unite, indeed! Why we liked it: Opening a new market in the lending space is a multi-billion-dollar opportunity for the company that gets it right. Higia By monitoring thermal patterns inside a breast, the startup  Higia  hopes it can offer women a better, non-invasive method to detect breast cancer. The company’s wearable device, called EVA, can be placed under any sports bra, and offers a new way to fill the gaps that current screening techniques aren’t addressing — things like early breast cancer detection in women with high breast density. The company has already pre-sold 5,000 units in Mexico and will begin shipping them in the fall of 2018.

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10 startups that caught our eye from Y Combinator S18 Demo Day 1

From new wearables that detect breast cancer to creating the industrial supply chain for the meat replacement industry, the latest crop of Y Combinator companies showcased the breadth of entrepreneurial innovation that encapsulates the waning days of 2018. While the entire batch of 63 companies was impressive, a few in particular caught our eye. So take a look below at our picks for some of the hits from this year’s summer cohort of companies. Oxygen Breaking freelancers from the month-to-month boom-and-bust payment cycles that bind them, Oxygen provides working capital loans to freelancers who can go months without getting a paycheck. The company is more than willing to work with a group of borrowers who collectively make $1.4 trillion in 1099 income annually and who are locked out of loans. Oxygen offers flat-fee access to credit and free mobile banking, all while using machine learning to determine credit worthiness. Freelance workers of the world unite, indeed! Why we liked it: Opening a new market in the lending space is a multi-billion-dollar opportunity for the company that gets it right. Higia By monitoring thermal patterns inside a breast, the startup  Higia  hopes it can offer women a better, non-invasive method to detect breast cancer. The company’s wearable device, called EVA, can be placed under any sports bra, and offers a new way to fill the gaps that current screening techniques aren’t addressing — things like early breast cancer detection in women with high breast density. The company has already pre-sold 5,000 units in Mexico and will begin shipping them in the fall of 2018. Aiming for accurate and immediate risk assessments, Higia will release its device for $299, focusing on the U.S. market at first and moving forward with clinical trials at Stanford. Read more about Higia here. Why we liked it: A new diagnostic tool in the battle against breast cancer that clocks in at a reasonable price point for consumers could be a huge win for investors and the world. C16 Biosciences C16 Biosciences  is aiming to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the globe with their lab-grown palm oil, an alternative to a product that is found in a truly massive amount of goods.

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YC-backed Sterblue aims to enable smarter drone inspections

As government regulation for commercial drone usage seems to be trending in a very positive direction for the companies involved, there is an ever-growing opportunity for drone startups to utilize artificial intelligence to deliver insights without requiring much human effort. Sterblue , a French drone software startup that is launching out of Y Combinator’s latest class of companies, is aiming to get off-the-shelf drones inspecting large outdoor structures up close with automated insights that identify anomalies that need a second look. The startup’s software is specifically focused on enabling drones to easily inspect large power lines or wind turbines with simple automated trajectories that can get a job done much quicker and with less room for human error. The software also allows the drones to get much closer to the large structures they are scanning so the scanned images are as high-quality as possible. Compared to navigating a tight urban environment, Sterblue has the benefit of there being very few airborne anomalies around these structures, so autonomously flying along certain flight paths is as easy as having a CAD structure available and enough wiggle room to correct for things like wind condition. Operators basically just have to connect their drones to the Sterblue cloud platform where they can upload photos and view 3D models of the structures they have scanned while letting the startup’s neural net identify any issues that need further attention. All and all, Sterblue says their software can let drones get within three meters of power lines and wind turbines, which allows their AI systems to easily detect anomalies from the photos being taken. Sterblue says their system can detect defects as small as one millimeter in size. The startup was initially working on their own custom drone hardware but decided that their efforts were best spent supporting off-the-shelf devices from companies like DJI, with their software solution sitting on top. The founding team is composed of former Airbus employees that are focusing early efforts on utility companies, with some of the first customers based in Europe, Africa and Asia.

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Incentivai launches to simulate how hackers break blockchains

Cryptocurrency projects can crash and burn if developers don’t predict how humans will abuse their blockchains. Once a decentralized digital economy is released into the wild and the coins start to fly, it’s tough to implement fixes to the smart contracts that govern them. That’s why Incentivai is coming out of stealth today with its artificial intelligence simulations that test not just for security holes, but for how greedy or illogical humans can crater a blockchain community. Crypto developers can use Incentivai’s service to fix their systems before they go live. “There are many ways to check the code of a smart contract, but there’s no way to make sure the economy you’ve created works as expected,” says Incentivai’s solo founder Piotr Grudzień. “I came up with the idea to build a simulation with machine learning agents that behave like humans so you can look into the future and see what your system is likely to behave like.” Incentivai will graduate from Y Combinator next week and already has a few customers. They can either pay Incentivai to audit their project and produce a report, or they can host the AI simulation tool like a software-as-a-service. The first deployments of blockchains it’s checked will go out in a few months, and the startup has released some case studies to prove its worth. “People do theoretical work or logic to prove that under certain conditions, this is the optimal strategy for the user. But users are not rational. There’s lots of unpredictable behavior that’s difficult to model,” Grudzień explains.

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Klarity uses AI to strip drudgery from contract review

Klarity , a member of the Y Combinator 2018 Summer class, wants to automate much of the contract review process by applying artificial intelligence, specifically natural language processing. Company co-founder and CEO Andrew Antos has experienced the pain of contract reviews first hand. After graduating from Harvard Law, he landed a job spending 16 hours a day reviewing contract language, a process he called mind-numbing. He figured there had to be a way to put technology to bear on the problem and Klarity was born. “A lot of companies are employing internal or external lawyers because their customers, vendors or suppliers are sending them a contract to sign,” Antos explained They have to get somebody to read it, understand it and figure out whether it’s something that they can sign or if it requires specific changes. You may think that this kind of work would be difficult to automate, but Antos said that  contracts have fairly standard language and most companies use ‘playbooks.’ “Think of the playbook as a checklist for NDAs, sales agreements and vendor agreements — what they are looking for and specific preferences on what they agree to or what needs to be changed,” Antos explained. Klarity is a subscription cloud service that checks contracts in Microsoft Word documents using NLP. It makes suggestions when it sees something that doesn’t match up with the playbook checklist. The product then generates a document, and a human lawyer reviews and signs off on the suggested changes, reducing the review time from an hour or more to 10 or 15 minutes. Screenshot: Klarity They launched the first iteration of the product last year and have 14 companies using it with 4 paying customers so far including one of the world’s largest private equity funds. These companies signed on because they have to process huge numbers of contracts

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RideAlong is helping police officers de-escalate 911 calls with data designed for the field

RideAlong keeps people in mind, and that’s a good thing. The company , founded by Meredith Hitchcock (COO) and Katherine Nammacher (CEO), aims to make streets safer, not with expansive surveillance systems or high-tech weaponry but with simple software focused on the people being policed. That distinction sounds small, but it’s surprisingly revelatory. Tech so oftens forgets the people that it’s ostensibly trying to serve, but with RideAlong they’re front and center. “The thing about law enforcement is they are interacting with individuals who have been failed by the rest of society and social support networks,” Nammacher told TechCrunch in an interview. “We want to help create a dialogue toward a more perfect future for people who are having some really rough things happen to them. Police officers also want that future.” Ridealong is specifically focused on serving populations that have frequent interactions with law enforcement. Those individuals are often affected by complex forces that require special care — particularly chemical dependence, mental illness and homelessness. “I think it is universally understood if someone has a severe mental illness… putting them through the criminal justice system and housing them in a jail is not the right thing to do,” Nammacher said. For RideAlong, the question is how to help those individuals obtain long-term support from a system that isn’t really designed to adequately serve them. Made for field work, RideAlong is a mobile responsive web app that presents relevant information on individuals who frequently use emergency services. It collects data that might otherwise only live in an officer’s personal notebook or a police report, presenting it on a call so that officers can use it to determine if an individual is in crisis and if they are, the best way to de-escalate their situation and provide support. With a simple interface and a no-frills design, RideAlong works everywhere from a precinct laptop to a smartphone in the field to a patrol car’s dash computer. Nammacher explains that any police officer could easily think of the five people they interact with most often, recalling key details about them like their dog’s name and whether they are close to a known family member.

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Y Combinator invests in a build-your-own mac and cheese restaurant

Y Combinator has invested $120,000 in Mac’d , a build-your-own mac and cheese restaurant that lets customers choose their own adventure from the beginning. I popped over to one of the Mac’d locations last week in San Francisco to get my mac on and chat with the founders. For starters, the mac and cheese was bomb. Sure, one could argue it’s hard to mess up mac and cheese, but it’s somehow been done before. Trust me, I know this from firsthand experience. I opted for a relatively basic mac and cheese with what Mac’d calls its “#Basic” sauce, which is a blend of cheddar cheeses, a spice mix and a hint of asiago. From there, I selected a combination of a shells and elbow noodle base. For those who are gluten-free, Mac’d also offers a cauliflower base. Next, I picked my mix-ins. Again, I’m super basic, so I just went with bacon and topped it with pulled pork and breadcrumbs. Although the restaurant is tech-enabled, it’s less of a tech play and more of a restaurant play, Mac’d founder Chen-Chen Huo (pictured above on right) told TechCrunch.

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Observe.AI raises $8M to use artificial intelligence to improve call centers

Being stuck on the phone with call centers is painful. We all know this.  Observe.AI is one company that wants to make the experience more bearable, and it’s raised $8 million to develop an artificial intelligence system that it believes will do just that. The funding round was led by  Nexus Venture Partners, with participation from MGV, Liquid 2 Ventures and Hack VC. Existing investors Emergent Ventures and Y Combinator also took part — Observe.AI was part of the YC’s winter 2018 batch. The India-U.S. startup was founded last year with the goal of solving a very personal problem for founders Swapnil Jain (CEO), Akash Singh (CTO) and Sharath Keshava (CRO): making call centers better. But, unlike most AI products that offer the potential to fully replace human workforces, Observe.AI is setting out to help the humble customer service agent. The company’s first product is an AI that assists call center workers by automating a range of tasks, from auto-completing forms for customers to guiding them on next steps in-call and helping find information quickly. Jain told TechCrunch in an interview that the product was developed following months of consultation with call center companies and their staff, both senior and junior. That included a stint in Manila, one of the world’s capitals for offshoring customer services and a city well known to Keshava, who helped healthcare startup Practo launch its business in the Philippines’ capital. That effort to know call center operates directly has also shaped how Observe.AI is pitching its services. Rather than going to companies, it is tapping the root of the tree by offering its services to the call centers who manage customer support for well-known businesses behind the curtain. Uber, for example, is one of many to use Philippines-based support centers, but the Observe.AI thesis is that going directly to the source is easier than navigating large companies for business. One such partner is Concentrix , one of the world’s largest customer support providers with over 100,000 staff and offices dotted around the globe, while the startup said it has tapped Philippines telco PLDT for infrastructure.

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Outvote hopes to flip elections by getting Democrats to text their friends

Outvote , a new Y Combinator-backed startup, wants to make grassroots-style campaigning easier and more personal, with the launch of an app that allows people to text their friends with reminders to vote. The idea is to take advantage of people’s willingness to use social sharing to communicate about political issues, while also leveraging the simplicity that comes with tweeting or posting to Facebook and turning that into an actionable reminder that can actually drive people to the polls during critical times. The startup was founded by  Naseem Makiya , a Harvard-educated software engineer with a background in startups, including San Francisco-based Moovweb and Cambridge area’s DataCamp; along with Nadeem Mazen , an MIT grad and interactive designer who once  worked with OK GO on one of its viral music videos, and who now owns the Cambridge-based creative agency Nimblebot. Mazen, who has since moved into an advisory role with Outvote, also has more direct political experience, having run for public office himself. In fact, he learned first-hand how every vote counts, having won his Cambridge City Council position in 2013 by just six votes. He also attributed his second election win to organizing low propensity, minority and younger voters — plus “really doing a lot of texting and a lot of outreach through my friend networks,” says Mazen. When Mazen’s time in politics ended, he then helped others get elected using similar means. Later, he and Makiya brought together a group of Harvard and MIT folks to formalize a company around the technology they were using. This became Outvote. While today there are a lot of tools for voter outreach, many of those operated by well-known organizations, like MoveOn, for example, involve people opting in to receive texts from the group in question. Outvote is different because it’s a tool that helps individual voters reach out to their own personal acquaintances, family and friends. “The way campaigns are run right now is most of the budget is spent on ads that are really low ROI — they have some effect on persuasion, but less effect on actual voter turnout,” explains Makiya. “With this effort, we’re trying to bring politics back to more of word-of-mouth and conversations between friends,” he says. The team began working on the technology for Outvote last summer, and officially founded the company early this year. While individuals are the app’s end users, they’re brought into the app by a campaign

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Snark AI looks to help companies get on-demand access to idle GPUs

Riding on a wave of an explosion in the use of machine learning to power, well, just about everything is the emergence of GPUs as one of the go-to methods to handle all the processing for those operations. But getting access to those GPUs — whether using the cards themselves or possibly through something like AWS — might still be too difficult or too expensive for some companies or research teams. So Davit Buniatyan and his co-founders decided to start Snark AI , which helps companies rent GPUs that aren’t in use across a distributed network of companies that just have them sitting there, rather than through a service like Amazon. While the larger cloud providers offer similar access to GPUs, Buniatyan’s hope is that it’ll be attractive enough to companies and developers to tap a different network if they can lower that barrier to entry. The company is launching out of Y Combinator’s Summer 2018 class. “We bet on that there will always be a gap between mining and AWS or Google Cloud prices,” Buniatyan said. “If the mining will be more profitable than the cost of running a GPU, anyone can get into AWS and do mining and be profitable. We’re building a distributed cloud computing platform for clients that can easily access the resources there but are not used.” The startup works with companies with a lot of spare GPUs that aren’t in use, such as gaming cloud companies or crypto mining companies. Teams that need GPUs for training their machine learning models get access to the raw hardware, while teams that just need those GPUs to handle inference get access to them through a set of APIs. There’s a distinction between the two because they are two sides to machine learning — the former building the model that the latter uses to execute some task, like image or speech recognition. When the GPUs are idle, they run mining to pay the hardware providers, and Snark AI also offers the capability to both mine and run deep learning inference on a piece of hardware simultaneously, Buniatyan said. Snark AI matches the proper amount of GPU power to whatever a team needs, and then deploys it across a network of distributed idle cards that companies have in various data centers. It’s one way to potentially reduce the cost of that GPU over time, which may be a substantial investment initially but get a return over time while it isn’t in use. If that’s the case, it may also encourage more companies to sign up with a network like this — Snark AI or otherwise — and deploy similar cards.

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HoneyLove looks to reinvent shapewear

Betsie Larkin spent the first ten years of her professional career as an EDM artist . She released two solo albums, toured five continents and worked with the likes of Armin van Buuren and Ferry Corsten . But after being constantly frustrated by shapewear she wore under her stage outfits, she felt compelled to try her hand at a new industry. That’s how HoneyLove was born. HoneyLove, backed by Y Combinator, aims to disrupt the traditional shapewear market by making an affordable, high-quality product that actually works. In her research before starting HoneyLove, Larkin identified two big problems with shapewear. The first is that it tends to bunch up, causing constant readjustment, and the second is that it tends flatten out everything, even the curves people want to show off. That’s why Larkin developed HoneyLove Sculptwear. HoneyLove uses supportive structures in side the seams of the garment, similar to the flexible boning used in old-school corsettes, and encases those structures in a soft channel of protective fabric. This simple enhancement ensures that the garment doesn’t bunch up around the legs or waistband. HoneyLove also inserts its patent-pending BoostBands, made from a combination of compression fabric and a flat elastic panel, in the back of the legs of the garment to accentuate the natural curve between the bottom and the upper legs, according to Larkin. The company manufactures at a gold-certified responsible (WRAP) factory that is dedicated to shapewear in the Guangdong province of China. HoneyLove first started out on Kickstarter in February, and raised a whopping $300,000 in pre-orders after posting a $30,000 goal. The product is now available via the HoneyLove website for $89, which sits right in the middle of the larger market, where you can find cheap shapewear for as little as $35 and high-end shapewear for as much as $150.

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YC-backed RevenueCat helps developers manage their in-app subscriptions

Startup founders don’t usually pitch their ideas by admitting that they’re fixing something “boring,” but it seems to work for RevenueCat ‘s Jacob Eiting. In fact, Eiting alternately described his startup (which is part of the current class at accelerator Y Combinator) as handling “boring work” and solving a “boring problem.” RevenueCat helps developers manage their in-app subscriptions, which Eiting said “is just boring — developers don’t want to do it.” And yet it can be crucial for their business. After all, Eiting and his co-founder Miguel Carranza both worked at brain training app Elevate (where Eiting was CTO and Carranza was director of engineering), and he said shifting Elevate’s business model from one-off purchases to recurring subscriptions “saved the company.” Eiting left Elevate more than a year ago, ultimately deciding to build a startup around “this weird skill I have.” RevenueCat offers an API that developers can use to support in-app subscriptions on iOS and Android, which means they don’t have to worry about all the nuances, bugs and updates in the way each platform handles subscriptions. Eiting said this is the kind of thing that “holds a lot of companies back — maybe not forever, but it’s usually at a time when a company shouldn’t be worrying about this.” The API also allows developers to bring all the data about their subscription business together in one place, across platforms. Ultimately, he wants to turn RevenueCat into a broader “revenue management platform,” allowing developers to try out strategies like offering different prices to different customer segments. More broadly, Eiting suggested that subscriptions offer a way out of the current “race to the bottom in how software is sold” — particularly in mobile app stores, where many of us expect everything to be free or dirt cheap. Obviously, that’s not a great situation for someone hoping to make money by selling software, but Eiting pointed out that it can be bad for the consumer too, because it means the developer has less reason to support and update the app. “Someone who pays for your 99-cent app once, they think they own your time,” he said. “You want to be helpful, you don’t want to let down a paid user, but your incentives aren’t really aligned.” Subscriptions, even if they’re just for 99 cents a month, can re-align those incentives — Eiting has described this as a system of app patronage : “You want this thing to stay working, you need to pony up some money to developers.” He also acknowledged that as more apps shift to this model, there’s a risk of subscription fatigue , which could lead to “maybe not a harsh backlash, but there might be a secondary correction.” But in Eiting’s view, that’s less a problem for individual developers and more for the mobile platforms. Those platforms, he said, should be building better tools for consumers to manage all their subscriptions in one place.

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Propelling deep space flight with a new fuel source, Momentus prepares for liftoff

Mikhail Kokorich, the founder of Momentus , a new Y Combinator-backed propulsion technology developer for space flight, hadn’t always dreamed of going to the moon. A physicist who graduated from Russia’s top-ranked Novosibirsk University, Kokorich was a serial entrepreneur in who grew up in Siberia and made his name and his first fortunes in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union. The heart of Momentus’ technology is a new propulsion system that uses water as a propellant instead of chemicals. Image courtesy Momentus Using water has several benefits, Kokorich says. One, it’s a fuel source that’s abundant in outer space, and it’s ultimately better and more efficient fuel for flight beyond low earth orbit. “If you move something with a chemical booster stage to the moon. Chemical propulsion is good when you need to have a very high thrust,” according to Kokorich. Once a ship gets beyond gravity’s pull, water simply works better, he says. Some companies are trying to guide micro-satellites with technologies like Phase 4 which use ionized gases like Xenon, but according to Kokorich those are more expensive and slower. “When ionized propulsion is used for geostationary satellites to orbit, it takes months,” says Kokorich, using water can half the time. “We can carry ten tons to geostationary orbit and it’s much faster,” says Kokorich. The company has already signed an agreement with ECM Space, a European launch services provider, which will provide the initial trip for the company’s first test of its propulsion system on a micro-satellite — slated for early 2019. That first product, “Zeal,” has specific impulses of 150 to 180 seconds and power up to 30 watts

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