ACLU & Famous Startup Accelerator Team Up Against Trump in Unlikely PartnershipFeb 15, 2017
Y Combinator is a big name in Silicon Valley, known as the venture capital company with a hand in helping ambitious startups like Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, and Twitch.tv get off the ground. Twice a year, they choose a new batch of companies to throw their formidable resources behind, offering an average of $120,000 in seed money, practical guidance, and industry connections in exchange for a 7% stake in the companies’ futures. This quid pro quo arrangement, however, will have to be modified slightly for their latest investment property: the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU isn’t the first nonprofit to be adopted by the startup accelerator. Y Combinator began taking on nonprofit organizations alongside for-profit ventures in 2013, when they threw their support behind Watsi, an online platform that enables donors to fund costly medical procedures for patients in need around the world. At the time, they clarified that “rather than an investment in the narrow sense,” all money directed towards their new nonprofit partners would be charitable donations, with no expectation of repayment. The ACLU will receive the same treatment, as beneficiaries of $200,000 to be put towards their mission of resisting Trump’s abuse of his executive office. Y Combinator alumni have already come forward in droves to offer their expertise as well; according to a tweet by Y Combinator President Sam Altman, over two dozen YC founders had already volunteered their help within just the first half hour of the company’s announcement.
A succinct post on Y Combinator’s blog declares that the company is “delighted” to be working with the ACLU, and “honored to be able to help.” Their language is intentionally vague in praising the ACLU’s “particularly important role right now,” but the post links directly to a statement by ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero about their team’s successful appeal to halt Trump’s unconstitutional ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. In it, Romero praises the ACLU’s combined efforts with other organizations to “vigorously defend the Bill of Rights from the authoritarian designs of the Trump administration,” offering an unambiguous stance in opposition to the current President’s policies – a stance with which Y Combinator has just proudly aligned itself.
The partnership with Y Combinator comes at a historical moment for the ACLU, which received an unprecedented outpouring of donations the weekend Trump’s Muslim immigration ban went into effect. The $24.1 million raised over the course of just a few days is equivalent to six years’ worth of average online contributions to the ACLU, and it stands to reason that the organization might welcome some assistance in putting those funds to their best possible use. While the nonprofit has declared its intentions to expand its staff to meet the growing demand for their services, Romero has also expressed hope that Y Combinator’s mentorship might help the century-old organization “reach new audiences and be at the leading edge of technology. Beyond financial contributions, the Silicon Valley community can help organizations like ours harness recent membership surges and spread the word about what the ACLU is doing to protect people’s rights from violations by the Trump administration.” From Romero’s perspective, it’s less about the money and more about knowing how to utilize it.
Some parties have been skeptical of the new alliance, if not outright critical. Peter Thiel, an outspoken Trump supporter, is a prominent Y Combinator partner, which seems to sully the new alliance. However, the decision to bring the ACLU on board was made by none other than Sam Altman himself, an avid Trump opponent who organized a $1 million voter drive during the 2016 election to galvanize young people into political action. Romero, too, is insistent that the ACLU’s new affiliation will be a boon, assuring supporters that not only does Thiel have “no role in this project,” but that the ACLU “set[s] our own agenda.” From now on, they’ll just have a little more support.