This article was published on December 21, 2011

Can you really be a non-technical co-founder?

Can you really be a non-technical co-founder?
Harrison Weber
Story by

Harrison Weber

Harrison Weber is TNW's Features Editor in NYC. Part writer, part designer. Stay in touch: Twitter @harrisonweber, Google+ and Email. Harrison Weber is TNW's Features Editor in NYC. Part writer, part designer. Stay in touch: Twitter @harrisonweber, Google+ and Email.

A recent piece by Miles Grimshaw, curator of TEDxYale, asks the question “can you really be a non-technical co-founder?” The answer, like for most difficult questions, is unclear. But if you’re itching to get into an accelerator like YCombinator or Techstars, all you have to do is check the numbers.

Grimshaw dug up the LinkedIn profiles of 254 startups that took part in YC or Techstars during the past 6 years, and documented each founder’s college and major. The study shows that approximately 80% of startups consisted of at least one technical cofounder, and out of every founder, around 70% studied science, technology, engineering or math (aka STEM). YC heavily favors technical founders, while only a little less than 50% of all TechStars founders had a background in STEM.

So what does this mean? If you’re heart’s set on an accelerator like YC, you might as well stick it out and major in something technical. And if you’re completely adverse to STEM, it’s time to start hunting for a technical co-founder. Steve Jobs, for example, couldn’t have founded Apple without Steve Wozniak.

Looking beyond the fame of YC and TechStars, it’s obvious that a technical background isn’t required at all; it just helps. As for Designers, there’s actually a few emerging programs tailored to get founders up and running. Notably, The Designer Fund is a community of designers that invest in designer founders through mentorship, funding, and connections.

Grimshaw explains the data:

  1. If you want to get into TechStars or YCombinator, and are a Freshman or Sophomore in college, you might want to jump off the cool-kid bandwagon and actually study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).
  2. There is definitely little such thing as a non-technical team.
  3. The accelerators might tout that they are more exclusive than Yale, Harvard, MIT, Stanford etc but those graduates make up a non-insignificant portion of startup founders the accelerators accept.
  4. Higher ed is under attack right now by a growing number of people who wonder if it is all worth it. When it comes to YCombinator and TechStars it just might be:
  5. Of all the founder’s whose Linkedin profile we found only a handful explicitly said they were self-taught
  6. 25% of co-founders attended the same college – your college network is a powerful community to tap into when you want to find that second A player to start a venture.

Check out The Yale Law & Technology Blog for all the details.

Are you a technical or a designer co-founder?

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