Y Combinator (YC) is no longer the beacon of guidance for Indian startups. The Silicon Valley startup accelerator—which, for years, has been providing the maximum push to very early-stage companies looking to make it big, finds itself outshone by a young upstart. Surge, a four-year-old incubator engineered by the venture capital (VC) powerhouse Sequoia Capital, is disrupting the game.

On 5 and 6 April, YC will organise its famed “Demo Day”—where 273 carefully vetted companies from its latest Winter 2023 (W23) cohort will present their products to a discerning audience of investors. While it’s a good turnout, not all is good in the hood.

The participation in the W23 cohort of YC’s three-month-long programme involving funding and mentorship dropped by a third from its previous record-breaking W22 batch that hosted 400 global startups. More importantly, only 12 Indian companies participated in the programme—a significant and consistent drop from 21 in the Summer 2022 (S22), 34 in W22, and 41 in W21.

While Indian tech startups, especially fintechs, have gained from participation in these cohorts, the entrepreneurial landscape is undergoing a seismic shift. Many founders are now seeking alternative paths to early-stage capital and guidance. And thanks to a growing number of innovative programmes, promising startups are finding it easier than ever to gain visibility and secure crucial funding.

Leading the charge charge The Ken Decoding Sequoia’s Surge Read more  is Sequoia India, which launched Surge in 2019. Since then, US-based Accel Atoms, Singapore’s Antler, and London’s Entrepreneur First (EF) have all announced India-focused pre-seed programmes. 

Both YC and Surge have rather low acceptance rates—~1-2%. But that’s where the similarities end.

[Getting into YC or Surge] is like getting into IIT Delhi or IIT Bombay, one might be a notch above the other, but both are excellent

Founder, A YC-backed startup turned unicorn

As The Ken has written written The Ken Has Y Combinator failed in India? Read more  before, YC has drawn criticism from Indian founders who noted a dearth of partners in the country, a contrast to the almost exclusively India-focused team at Surge. Moreover, YC’s growing cohort size has raised concerns among some Indian founders. Two of them recalled to The Ken how they felt “lost in the crowd” in their cohorts in W20 and W21.

Two executives at two VC firms echoed similar sentiments to The Ken.