Joe Montana, astronaut Mark Kelly among those at star-studded Y Combinator event

I’m at the Y Combinator Demo Day, where nearly 50 fledgling startups are strutting their stuff for potential investors. A third of the companies have pitched so far; here are a few impressions.

• YC’s ability to lure  star investors appears unabated. I’ve seen or spoken to Michael Arrington, Ron (and Ronny) Conway, Shervin Pishevar, Dave McClure and Saeed Amidi, to name a few. Those last two guys run their own startup incubators, so it’s interesting to see them here; McClure has been tweeting like a madman.

• What may be even more notable is Demo Day’s ability to bring in big names from the world of entertainment. First time I came to one of these, I met Ashton Kutcher; the second time, it was MC Hammer. So far today, I’ve chatted briefly with former Golden State Warrior Baron Davis, astronaut Mark Kelly and Joe Montana, who brought his wife and son, Nate. Kelly, who commanded the final Space Shuttle flight, is here at Conway’s invitation and told me he wanted to find out how investors assess startups.  “I’m a longtime user of technology,” he said. “A different kind of technology, but I’m trying to get a sense of what’s going on here in Silicon Valley.”

• As for the actual startups? They seem to be bringing in folks from different walks of life as well. The first founder who pitched, Travis Dredd, was chief of staff at the last Democratic National Convention. His experience running such a massive event led him to co-found GoComm, which aims to make it easier for event organizers to stay in touch and make changes on the fly. (“If they can do that at scale, they’re gonna make a lot of money,” one attendee behind me murmured.)

Speaking of money, Nancy Hua of Apptimize told the crowd during her pitch that she’d quit a job making “millions of dollars a year” as a trader to launch her startup, which lets users make changes to mobile apps without having to know how to code. “This is a bigger opportunity,” she said, adding that she believes Apptimize can be a billion-dollar company.

Hua drew some audience murmurs with that comment, but the chutzpah award may go to the young co-founder of SpoonRocket, which promises $6 organic meals delivered within 10 minutes. Claiming the company handles more delivery orders each day in Berkeley than GrubHub does in a month, Spoonrocket’s Steven Hsia proclaimed, ““We are a money-making machine.” The audience laughed out loud, which Hsia didn’t seemed to be expecting. Then again, youthful enthusiasm is one of the chief currencies of Silicon Valley, so perhaps no harm was done.

YC co-founder Paul Graham, in his opening remarks, sounded a little shocked to be presiding over his 17th Demo Day, and he cautioned attendees not to worry if they had a hard time spotting the next Dropbox or Airbnb in the crowd. “Its getting harder for us to figure out who the big winners are,” he said.

Graham also predicted that plenty of founders, hoping to interest listeners in a longer conversation, would rely on a tried-and-true elevator pitch trick: Likening their companies to an established brand. “Don’t get discouraged if you hear ‘Git for shoe repair,'” he joked. And indeed, the first slate of 17 startups to take the Computer History Museum stage included “Yammer for the mobile workforce,” “ for legal bills,” “Optimizely for apps,” “Yelp for Latin America” and “the Uber of food.” That last? Yep, from SpoonRocket’s Hsia.

Check back for more updates after the pitches resume post-lunch.


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