It’s billed as the world’s largest startup competition and accelerator program, and it takes place right here in Boston. MassChallenge, coming off a successful first run in 2010, is gearing up to do it again this year—but not without some important changes and improvements to its structure.
Last year, the Boston-area nonprofit organized a $1 million global startup competition and housed more than 100 startups—across a dizzying array of sectors that included software, life sciences, cleantech, and social impact—during a three-month accelerator/mentorship program in its Fan Pier building. The program culminated in an awards ceremony in October to honor 26 finalist companies, of which 16 received money from the program (either $50,000 or $100,000 apiece).
But John Harthorne, MassChallenge’s CEO and co-founder, is hardly satisfied with those results. His goal is much bigger: to spur innovation in the Boston area, and beyond, by supporting entrepreneurs and connecting them with funding and other resources—thereby creating a large-scale spectacle that will draw more attention and more resources. “I’m convinced we are on the verge of a renaissance,” Harthorne says.
And he wants MassChallenge to be the catalyst. To that end, the program’s budget is increasing from $1.5 million last year to $2 million this year, Harthorne says. The total prize money will remain $1 million, and the extra money will be spent on improving MassChallenge’s website and its resources for entrepreneurs, as well as on hiring more technical and support staff. What’s more, this morning the White House announced the creation of a private organization, Startup America Partnership, that aims to accelerate entrepreneurship throughout the U.S.—and MassChallenge is a key partner in the effort.
In its inaugural year, the nonprofit received $500,000 from the Massachusetts state government in a one-time deal. (No state money is expected this year.) Harthorne has been busy securing the $2 million for 2011 from returning sponsors and some new investors—the overall list now includes The Blackstone Foundation, The Fallon Company, MassMutual, Johnson & Johnson’s Corporate Office of Science & Technology, Microsoft, Xerox, Foley & Lardner, and the Deshpande Foundation.
When you try to do something as ambitious as MassChallenge, of course, you’re going to get your share of criticism. Over the past few months, I’ve talked with entrepreneurs and mentors who took part in the program, and I’ve heard a lot of constructive feedback and suggestions for what could … Next Page »
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