Since the launch of Y Combinator six years ago there have been countless competitors spring up all around the world, the primary competitive differentiator being that of location. YC's stellar reputation both in terms of expertise and connections to VC firms has been unrivalled and due to it's international nature, accepting teams from all around the world, it has been difficult for other seed accelerators to compete in attracting the best early stage companies.
However the last year has seen a new type of competitor to YC spring up: Specialist seed accelerators which differentiate themselves from YC not on the basis of location but rather on the basis of focusing on early-stage companies that serve a particular sector.
By focusing on particular sectors, especially those with unique challenges or difficulties in getting to market, these accelerators are providing a real challenge for traditional seed accelerators like Y Combinator and Techstars.
Indeed in reference to Imagine K12 an education-focused seed accelerator focused Paul Graham the founder of Y Combinator has commented:
If you want to start a startup building things for schools, we encourage you to apply to Imagine K12, because frankly, we couldn't help you the way they can.
So who are these specialist seed accelerators ?
Imagine K12 (San Francisco)
Startl (New York)
Joystick Labs (Durham, North Carolina)
Emerge Venture Lab (Oxford, United Kingdom)
Bethnal Green Ventures (London, United Kingdom)
Unreasonable Institute (Colarado)
RockHealth (San Francisco)
Blueprint Health (New York)
It's clearly only going to be a matter of time before we see a slew of seed accelerators covering a wide range of sectors, some obvious sectors for accelerators to cover include:
The financial sector probably produces more custom built software than anyone else in the world and it also produces a lot of startup founders (Wikipedia, Amazon, Delicious and PayPal were all [co-]founded by ex-finance people). The regulatory frameworks and the nature of selling to large financial firms makes it especially likely that a specialist seed accelerator would be able to add a lot of value.
All marketplaces (or more generally any two-sided market business) tend to face similar problems when it comes to bootstrapping and getting around the chicken-and-egg problem. A seed accelerator with expertise in all the different approaches in tackling this problem could help a lot of marketplace startups get over the initial bootstrapping hurdle.
Recruitment is a huge business with companies regularly spending upto 50% of an employee's first year salary in recruitment costs across the whole sourcing and selection process. There's a huge amount of opportunity for innovation, yet the barrier for getting adopted by traditionally conservative HR departments can be high. Having the right connections can make a huge difference in this sector
What other sectors do people think could benefit from specialist seed accelerators ?