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Building AI-powered drones for the IoT? A top startup accelerator reveals the best buzzwords of 2016

Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate reporter

Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s most storied startup accelerator, receives thousands of applications every year. It recently analyzed all the words of hopeful founders since 2005 to see how well they predicted the next hot investment opportunities, and which sectors may be facing the abyss.

The popularity of terms are “ahead of the curve compared to what the rest of the world sees,” wrote Jared Friedman, a partner at Y Combinator, by email. The accelerator has funded 1,000 startups worth a combined $65 billion including Airbnb, Dropbox and Heroku. “These are the ideas that the earliest stage startups are working on, before they get press or become publicly known.”

While all Y Combinator startups are eventually announced publicly, Friedman argues applications it receives gives them as much as a year advance notice to pick out promising companies and sectors (and several years before registering on broader indexes such as Google Trends).

What terms saw the biggest jump in 2016? Mentions of Slack, the $3.8 billion Silicon Valley team communications app, soared by 850% to the top of the list. The company is now either the competitive bullseye or the model for hundreds of others wanting seize a slice of Slack’s success at transforming workplace communications.

Other terms suggest the future will be full of concierges, ingredient delivery services, automated personal assistants and booking agents. Intense interest in drones, objects that talk to each other, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and vehicles remained strong, while Blockchain (which peaked last year) is still popular. You can see the full list here. (The term “journey” typically refers to a founder’s or company’s personal journey).

There were some losers. Bitcoin mentions fell by 61% in 2016 likely reflecting the currency’s recent troubles. A steep drop in the frequency of crowdfunding, servers, printing, websites and Twitter hint at dimmer prospects for those areas.


The image above was taken by Kevin Hale and shared under a Creative Commons license on WikiMedia.

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