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Citing concern over COVID-19, Y Combinator moves demo day online

Startup accelerator Y Combinator announced today that it has moved its demo day online, citing a “growing concern over COVID-19,” or coronavirus. The demo day has historically drawn crowds of Silicon Valley elite, journalists and both national and international venture capitalists to watch more than 100 startups come out to the world. 

“While we won’t be able to recreate every aspect of Demo Day, we’ll try our best to create an amazing experience for our founders and investors,” Y Combinator said in a blog post. Y Combinator’s 30th annual demo day will be pre-recorded and released to investors on Monday March 23, per the post.

Thanks to a mix of history and glamour, demo day is the culminating day of a YC startup’s accelerator experience. It’s a big audience full of check writers and fast typers, and at the least, they’ll get a tweet or a couple of sign-ups. The move to remote, in some way, dims that excitement. 

Brianne Kimmel, the founder of Work Life Ventures, noted that as investor demand for YC companies has grown, “the dozen or so breakout companies get funded weeks before demo day.” Kimmel attended YC’s 2016 Winter batch, and attended the past four demo days as an investor.

“While the entire early stage ecosystem comes together at YC demo day — many investors are there to network and support the companies they’ve backed well before the founder presents on stage,” Kimmel said. Many other major tech events are being cancelled as well, including SXSW.

Kimmel invested in Tandem before demo day last year, and has already invested in Accord, a project management platform, ahead of this year’s demo day.

Beyond digital presentations, YC has said it will “provide additional written background information on each company and access to their decks.” It also will provide software to help investors and founders arrange one-on-one meetings. 

Seth Bannon, a founding investor at Fifty Years and previous YC graduate (S12), said “the face to face human element is incredibly important, as founders try to gauge if they want to partner with an investor for the next tens years and vice versa.”

“At Demo Day you can have hundreds of those quick face to face interactions in hours. That said, I think this is the right decision for YC,” Bannon told TechCrunch. “The safety of founders and the broader community is most important. Good on them for making a really tough decision.”

Chris Woodward, the CEO of Handle (YC W19), said that “while not being able to meet investors in person at demo day could be seen as a blow to the current batches by some people, I see it as a potential opportunity for them to set longer meetings with investors post demo day.”

Other tech conferences have cancelled or moved operations online in an effort to protect against the new coronavirus. Earlier today, Jason Lemkin’s SaaStr postponed its annual conference to September 2020. Another accelerator, 500 Startups, will be live-streaming its separate demo day. YC’s decision to post pre-recorded videos is an attempt to bring deal access to investors, without shutting down all operations.

“For 15 years, startup investors have supported every new batch of YC companies, and we know the same will be true for this batch,” the post said.