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This online community has gamified the funding process for innovative startups

Founded by a Y Combinator alum, Pioneer has already announced 39 winners from its first three challenges.

This online community has gamified the funding process for innovative startups
[Illustration: Goran Factory]

Daniel Gross was accepted into Y Combinator’s accelerator program at just 18 and sold an AI-powered search engine to Apple for a reported $35 million at 22. Now 27, the tech entrepreneur is helping other founders through Pioneer, an online community that enables anyone in the world to compete for a prize package that includes a $1,000 grant, $6,000 in cryptocurrency, and $100,000 in Google Cloud credit, plus the chance for future investment from Pioneer. In August 2018, Gross debuted the concept as a gamified 30-day challenge: Applicants complete points-driven “quests” (games, puzzles, quizzes, providing feedback to other participants) and vote each other’s concepts up or down a leaderboard. Within the first six months, Pioneer has announced 39 winners from three challenges that drew several thousand contestants. Harshu Musunuri, from the U.S., is working on a way to better diagnose, treat, and prevent sepsis; Caroline Oluka, from Uganda, is creating a Kampala-based bike delivery service that empowers young women. Gross has created a clever tech platform to screen candidates seeking investment. “With a relatively cheap and scalable intervention,” he says, the applicants can become “the next great set of innovators.”

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About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.

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