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Why does a16z need its own Y Combinator?

For over a year, Andreessen Horowitz has quietly piloted its own take on an accelerator for early-stage entrepreneurs, and today, the firm announced the program’s official debut.

In exchange for an unannounced percentage of ownership, “a16z START” will offer early-stage founders up to $1 million in venture capital. The checks are backed by a $400 million seed fund, which closed in August 2021.

The remote-first program will accept founders on a rolling basis and wants to connect folks with partners for advice, potential customers or investors, and of course, other entrepreneurs.

On the relatively brief application form for START, a16z names six categories — American dynamism, consumer, enterprise, fintech, games or other. Investment terms will be discussed with final candidates, the form says.

This program extends Andreessen Horowitz’s stamp of approval to the earliest step of an entrepreneur’s journey: the idea stage, or the pre-quitting-your-day-job part of startup life. The company has invested in solo founders before their companies ever existed, but this program appears to be a more formal effort to bring folks into entrepreneurship. Notably, there is no mention of a diversity mandate or focus.

The list of early participants in this program shows that a16z is certainly interested in international entrepreneurs, similar to how Y Combinator has increasingly grown its global presence over the past few years. Some of START’s first entrepreneurs include executives from Rappi, a Colombian unicorn.

TechCrunch reached out to Bryan Kim and Anne Lee Skates, the two partners running the program, for comment, but has not yet heard back. Until then, let’s walk through my biggest question for the duo: Why does a16z need its own Y Combinator?

I know that it’s not entirely fair to compare the two institutions beyond their focus on empowering early-stage founders with capital, networks and advice in exchange for equity. In fact, over the years, a16z has often led some of the buzziest rounds coming out of Y Combinator, including Tandem, Queenly and Contra — essentially sourcing deal flow from the accelerator.