A fifth of the companies launched from Silicon Valley's most famous accelerator have female founders. Here's how Y Combinator impacted a summer 2019 female-led startup.

A fifth of the companies launched from Silicon Valley's most famous accelerator have female founders. Here's how Y Combinator impacted a summer 2019 female-led startup.


  • Y Combinator is an acclaimed startup accelerator founded by Paul Graham.
  • Since its inception in 2005, just over a fifth of the companies YC has helped grow has a female founder.
  • Elpha was one such company in the summer 2019 batch.
  • Cadran Cowansage, co-founder and CEO of Elpha, answered Business Insider's questions about her company's involvement in YC.
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Elpha, a startup that aims to support the women who make up 26% of tech employees within the US, spent three months shaping up. The co-founders moved to the Bay Area, attended dinners once a week with leaders in the startup world, and then pitched to over 1,000 investors at the end of the three months.

That's part of the program at Y Combinator.


Elpha got accepted into the summer 2019 batch of YC, the Silicon Valley accelerator that funds and supports early-stage startups.

To date, more than 20% of the companies founded through the accelerator have a female founder, and YC reports that this average is increasing. In the summer 2019 batch of YC, which started in June and ended in August, 28% of the companies had a female founder. One of those female-led startups was Elpha, which is part message-board, part networking site, and part Reddit - all by, and for, women in tech.

The company joins the ranks of YC-backed companies, which include Airbnb, Reddit, Dropbox, and DoorDash. YC has a track record of success; it claims that the combined valuation of the portfolio is over $100 billion. YC is also exclusive: an acceptance rate of 1.5%, comparable to Harvard or Stanford. Elpha's example is useful for founders thinking about applying to YC, both in terms of how the founders got in and what benefits they were able to derive so far.


Elpha's co-founders include Cadran Cowansage and Kuan Luo, and its first users were women who worked at YC and within the alumni network. Now the platform has 7,500 active members, who are able to ask questions and interact directly with inspirational women in tech, like Emily Weiss, founder and CEO of Glossier. By providing this online space, where women in tech can learn and contribute their own experiences, Elpha supports professional development.

YC not only helped reach users, it was also a source of support for the co-founders.

"The YC batch is an intense time that pushes you to make incredible progress in a very small amount of time," Cowansage told Business Insider. "And the YC alumni network is a powerful resource for finding customers and seasoned founders to talk to."


The unique perspective that the co-founders brought as women in a male-dominated industry allowed them to relate to their audience. That was essential to helping them get into YC. They each have over 10 years of experience creating digital products at companies like Y Combinator, MongoDB, Etsy and Cockroach Labs.

At Elpha, they're focused on scaling while making sure that the online community Elpha provides is a high-quality place for women. The site is organized by topics like career growth and venture capital, with posts that users can directly add comments - and emojis - to.

As more and more people join, Cowansage emphasizes keeping that core community culture in place: Elpha's software and culture are designed and written by women, and the Q&As with top women entrepreneurs, operators and VCs on the site are also available for everyone.


"We are building Elpha with the belief that the world would be a better place if women were given equal access to opportunities and resources in the workplace," Cowansage said. "We're redefining community from the ground up."