Out of the 127 startups pitching during Y Combinator’s first season of 2016, L’Atelier North America’s favourites were to be found in fields ranging from smart mobility to retail and food tech. Below we describe the work of our top three favourites.

Y Combinator: L’Atelier’s top three favourites

Supersonic civilian aircraft in the skies from 2017 #SmartMobility

Boom has something of the Hyperloop project about it. This Colorado-based startup plans to build supersonic planes designed to carry passengers at business class prices. Its promises include ferrying passengers from San Francisco to Tokyo in less than 4h30mins, as opposed to the 11 hours it currently takes. If this venture sounds like something out of a science fiction scenario, Boom founder and CEO Blake Scholl seems to have his feet firmly on the ground in drawing up plans to get people flying faster. The first prototype is now being built at their factory in Denver and the first flight is scheduled to take place by the end of 2017. This powerful aircraft will be manufactured from ultra-light materials such as carbon fibre and incorporate the latest advances in aerodynamics and engine technology. Inevitably, the comparison is made with the now-defunct Concorde. “The Concorde is a museum piece today because it was too ambitious, too expensive and required enormous propulsive power. But all that happened fifty years ago,” points out Blake Scholl. The Boom plane will carry a price tag of $200 million, will use 30% less energy than Concorde but will nevertheless fly at a faster speed. Concorde’s cruising speed was Mach 2.0 while that of the projected Boom plane will be Mach 2.2. The company has already received twenty-five letters of intent including ten from the Virgin Group. Of course these expressions of intent to buy will not translate into revenue streams during 2016 as was made abundantly clear – not without a dose of humour – during the Demo Day presentation.


Boom promises to slash the New York - London flight time in half

Soon an end to food wastage? #FoodTech

Facing the reality that US grocery and catering businesses throw out some 90,000 tons of food annually, Copia is applying a well-thought-out business model to further a noble cause – ending food waste. The San Francisco-based startup has managed to transform the main obstacle to giving away food – the complex regulations in force – into a strength. “Overall US companies could reclaim up to $1.6 billion in tax credits by making food donations,” pointed out Copia co-founder and CEO Komal Ahmad. Copia, which describes itself as ‘a logistics company driven by technology’, encourages companies in the San Francisco Bay area that have an excess of food to go immediately on to the Copia website and ask for it to be picked up. A driver will then come over to the company premises, collect the leftover food and take it to a homeless or deprived persons’ shelter partnering with Copia. The startup takes care of all administrative tasks on behalf of the donating company and helps it to obtain the highest possible tax credit. Copia generates its own revenue by taking 30% of the tax credit savings made by the company, plus a fixed charge for picking up the leftover food. The firm already works hand-in-hand with companies such as Pepsico, cloud communications company Twilio and Stanford Health Care, and recently worked with the National Football League during the Super Bowl 2016 event, during which 14,000 tons of food were distributed to 23,000 people, simultaneously saving the NFL a total of $500 million in costs.


Copia makes it easier for companies to donate leftover food

The future of the user interface for social services #CivicTech #FoodTech

The US government runs a nutrition assistance programme for needy households, generally known as the Food Stamp Program, based on a system of food coupons. Rose Afriyie, co-founder of mRelief, points out that every year no less than $11 billion worth of coupons remain unclaimed by potential beneficiaries because of all the bureaucracy they have to go through in order to claim their rights. A benefit applicant will usually have to undergo a telephone interview lasting around an hour and a half or else fill out an eighteen-page application form to determine whether or not s/he is eligible for the government assistance programme. Chicago-based non-profit mRelief has set out to help US citizens find out whether they are entitled to benefits under the programme by sending them a succession of ten text messages. “It takes people just five minutes to reply to the questions. Our aim is to help citizens navigate their way through the bureaucratic process while also saving the state time and resources. (...) It’s worth pointing out that a person with two children who is on the minimum income will see a 20% rise in his or her monthly income when food coupons are added into the equation,” explained Rose Afriyie. Since joining the Y Combinator programme, mRelief has helped over 5,000 families to receive their aid entitlements. The non-profit has also entered into a partnership with the City of Chicago authorities to help distribute food aid to low-income households. This approach could in the longer term be extended to all types of social services, the most obvious potential being in social housing allocation and health insurance provision.


mRelief helps US citizens find out quickly whether they are entitled to social assistance.


By Pauline Canteneur