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Y Combinator’s Sam Altman ‘super impressed’ with Waterloo Region

Hack The North didn’t just cram as many developers as it could into University of Waterloo’s Engineering 5 building.It also brought Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, the startup world’s most exclusive accelerator program.Y Combinator, based in Silicon Valley, has a long relationship with Waterloo Region startups. They include Pebble, Couple, Vidyard, BufferBox, Thalmic Labs, Reebee and PiinPoint.In January 2013, its founder, Paul Graham told Fast Company, “Something is going on in Waterloo, because the applications we get from Waterloo students are better than those we get from students of any other university.”

Judging by his comments in an interview with Communitech during Hack The North, it’s safe to say Altman shares that opinion.

Q – What came to mind when you previously thought of Waterloo?

A – A high ratio of super-high-quality startups and engineers to population.

Sam Altman-Garage

“It’s such a high-density pool of talent,” said Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, on what Waterloo means to YC. (Communitech photo: Anthony Reinhart)

I just think of it as a very dense place for startups and innovation.

Q – What was the deciding factor for you to make your first trip here?

A – A few things.

One, I like hackathons, and two, so many of our good startups come from Waterloo and they are always like, “You gotta come visit, you gotta come visit,” so I’ve been looking for an excuse. And three, it miraculously it worked in my calendar.

Q – What does Waterloo Region mean to Y Combinator?

A – We look at it as one of the most important talent pools and sources for startups that we fund.

I would say it’s one of the few cities in the world that we really want to make sure that we have a very active presence.

It’s such a high-density pool of talent.

Q – Do you think that talent is slightly untapped?

A – Hopefully less and less.

Q – What do you think now that you’re finally here?

A – I’ve only been here for 12 hours and I’m just super impressed. I think I have a little better sense about why the University of Waterloo works as well as it does for training potential founders and engineers.

Q – What do you think that is?

A – I think that the co-op program is really awesome. I think that the breadth of exposure to different sorts of engineering that you learn, the co-op program, and the way that there is just such a culture of thinking about problems in the world and ideas; I think it’s really good.

Q – Our companies take away a lot from Silicon Valley and Y Combinator. What can Y Combinator and Silicon Valley learn from Waterloo?

One of the things that I don’t like about Silicon Valley is that there is a little bit of a scene around startups. People get into this whole Hollywood version of startups and I think there is a genuineness here, which is really, really refreshing.

Q – Any surprises so far?

A – Nothing too shocking.

Q – Are you coming back soon?

A – I would like to.

The rest of this year is going to be really hard, because I’m teaching a class at Stanford, but next year I would love to come back.

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