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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Clad in T-shirts, the startup founders cycled through the stage, each whizzing through a two-minute pitch packed with wildly optimistic promises and generously large market estimates.

Some pitched the usual Silicon Valley fare, like drones and live-streamed fitness classes and laundry detergent subscriptions aimed at hip millennials. But more than ever before, many of them pitched ideas for the life sciences: Transistors for synthetic biology. An experimental cell therapy for patients with liver disease. And a diagnostic that aims to bypass needles altogether by collecting blood from women’s used menstrual pads — and in doing so collect reams of data that are invaluable to pharma companies.


The occasion was Demo Day, something of a biannual ritual here at the end of each winter and summer. The storied incubator Y Combinator puts it on, so that the early-stage startups it backs can show off their progress and potential to a standing-room only crowd of top venture capital investors and other Silicon Valley royalty. You can think of it like a debutante ball.

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