MassChallenge has a mission to “catalyze a startup renaissance.” The company works to connect early-stage entrepreneurs with the resources they need to launch their businesses. Innovation Destination: Hartford spoke with John Valentine, Director of Partnerships at MassChallenge, about the MassChallenge’s accelerator program and the how the company’s affiliation with the MetroHartford Alliance will benefit the Southern New England innovation ecosystem.
IDH: How did you become involved with MassChallenge?
VALENTINE: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial bent, starting companies while in college and law school. Instead of following the tried-and-true path of becoming a lawyer, I joined the 10-person startup out of law school with $500,000 in funding, an 18-year-old CEO and an app.
After five years and many successes later, I turned 30 and decided to give back to other startups what I had been given. Joining MassChallenge allows me to equip 128 startups each year with the skills necessary to succeed in their industries.
IDH: What types of programs and services does MassChallenge offer?
VALENTINE: MassChallenge delivers its accelerator programing through a competition structure in which entrepreneurs compete for $1 million in prizes awarded at the end of the program with no equity taken. In addition to the $1 million in grants awarded to finalists, it also provides many forms of critical support to each startup cohort (supporting a total of 128 startups each year).
Support provided includes mentorship from a selection of more than 500 mentors with diverse backgrounds and a curriculum delivered through Deep Dive Days, lectures and workshops.
Professional resources are provided, either free of charge or heavily discounted, by key partners. Startups are regularly judged as part of the competition structure, which ensures that participants thoughtfully develop every aspect of their business, receive valuable written feedback from experts and enjoy the opportunity to pitch before a panel of investors and other industry experts.
IDH: Tell us about the MassChallenge accelerator program.
VALENTINE: MassChallenge, founded in 2009 and located in Boston, is one of the world’s largest startup accelerators and were early proponents of a unique model that supports high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs
without the burden of an equity stake. MassChallenge accepts applications from across the country and the world from all industries, including social impact, not-for-profit ventures. To date, the 617 MassChallenge alumni have raised more than $947 million in funding, generated $485 million in revenue and created 5,105 jobs.
IDH: What types of entrepreneurs participate in the program?
VALENTINE: Anyone can apply to MassChallenge with any early-stage startup, in any industry, from anywhere in the world. All entrepreneurs selected for the program are early-stage, which MassChallenge defines as a company that has less than $500,000 in equity investment and less than $1 million in revenue. In this year’s class, 44% of companies were founded by women, a statistic that is far better than the national accelerator average.
MassChallenge accepts companies from all industries, including clean technology, financial technology, health information technology, medical devices, non-profit and social impact startups.
IDH: In what ways will MassChallenge and the MetroHartford Alliance benefit from their affiliation with one another?
VALENTINE: MassChallenge has built best practices over its five-year history that will educate the MetroHartford Alliance and the Connecticut innovation ecosystem as they continue to support entrepreneurs in Connecticut. MassChallenge was an essential structural piece in Boston’s innovation ecosystem and many of the mentorship, community, funding and physical infrastructure pieces that MassChallenge has developed can be shared with the community in Hartford.
Twenty-five Connecticut startups applied to MassChallenge’s accelerator and the 23 that didn’t become finalists can be supported in a larger, more organized way by the Hartford innovation community. MassChallenge and MetroHartford Alliance will build best practices for growing innovation ecosystems in less populated cities.
IDH: How does the affiliation enhance Southern New England’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?
VALENTINE: A strong Southern New England entrepreneurial ecosystem is important to the success of any organization supporting startups, including MassChallenge and MetroHartford Alliance. We hope that incredible healthcare startups in Cambridge, MA can feel comfortable seeking support in New Haven and a robotics company from Hartford, CT can open an office near Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, MA.
Southern New England’s education system is an embarrassment of riches, and if we give our graduates a reason to start their projects here, we can truly compete with Silicon Valley for the best startups in the country.
IDH: What do you enjoy most about working with startups and entrepreneurs?
VALENTINE: I love when I’m able to connect the right startup to the right corporate partner at the right time for a partnership, joint development agreement, investment or acquisition. MassChallenge exists to help entrepreneurs win, and anything I can do to further that goal excites me.