FAQ for Startups

Applications for the 2021 MassChallenge US early stage programs in Austin, Boston, Houston and Rhode Island will remain open until Monday, April 5, 2021 @ 12PM ET. Apply here.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: Masschallenge Early-Stage US programs in Austin, Boston, Houston, Rhode Island 

MassChallenge’s early stage programs focus on supporting entrepreneurs and their business through the early stages of development. Through a non-profit, zero equity accelerator model we support more than 400 startups a year, from all industries and anywhere in the world, across 7 locations and 9 programs. MassChallenge accelerators are the most efficient pathway to connect startups, experts, corporations, and communities to accelerate the growth of new technologies and businesses. Read this Q&A below to learn more about the program benefits, the judging process, and more. If you didn’t find the answer you were looking for here, email us at earlystage@masschallenge.org.  
 

What do MassChallenge Eary Stage judges look for in a startup? 

MassChallenge judges look for high-impact, high-potential startups, with a viable path to success and some traction/progress in their plans.  High-impact and high-potential mean a startup has a large addressable market and if, successful, will have a significant impact on the problem it is trying to solve.

Does MassChallenge take equity or provide funding?

MassChallenge is a zero-equity accelerator using a competition-based model to provide cash awards and other prizes to the top startups at the end of the accelerator. We do not offer any investment or funding up front.

How do you choose which companies to accept into the program?

Acceptance is determined by our diverse community of expert judges who have been recruited and trained to identify the highest-impact startups across industries. Judges will provide feedback along the criteria in the application and then recommend you along a scale from definitely not to definitely yes.

Does MassChallenge accept companies that are competitive with each other?  

MassChallenge is an industry agnostic network that supports early-stage startups across all industries. We rely on our community of expert judges to select the highest-potential solutions – regardless of whether startups are in direct or indirect competition with each other. 

How much does MassChallenge cost?

MassChallenge is a zero-equity accelerator. We require a $99 application fee to apply, which easy to waive. Simply attend one of our info sessions or a Meet MassChallenge events to receive a discount code!

Will the 2021 accelerators be virtual? 

MassChallenge plans to host this year’s accelerator and competition as a completely virtual experience, until world events allow.  If we are able to and are comfortable convening in groups later in the year, we are prepared to explore a hybrid option and will keep virtual an option for those who cannot or are not comfortable being in person.

Which program should I choose?

All of our programs provide an equally high-quality experience for our founders. Since programs will be virtual this year, we encourage you to apply to all early-stage US programs (Austin, Boston, Houston, Rhode Island). When selecting your first-choice location, consider selecting a location that is best for your startup in the long term. What’s is driving the local economy? What resources, strategic partners, and investors are available in the region? Where may I want to relocate my company in the long term?

Do I need to send in a business plan?

While a formal business plan is not required to apply, many elements will be incorporated into the application, including the problem, solution, and impact of your venture. Should a startup advance into further judging rounds, a slide deck will be required for the 20-minute in-person pitch session. 

What engagement is expected? 

  • Expectations for engagement and eligibility criteria for the cash awards are as follows:  
  • Adherence to all MassChallenge guidelines and terms 
  • Commit to and sign the Founders Code by committing to: 
    • Set and drive towards goals aligned with business value-creation 
    • Practice intention in everyday engagement 
    • Be an accountable member of the community 
  • We do not require 100% attendance, but rather ask startups to commit to maximizing the ROI of the program by building and following through on an intentional engagement plan including workshops, speakers, mentors and events.  
  • Completion of all accelerator surveys  
  • Virtual attendance to bootcamp, held the week of June 28, 2021. 

What kind of schedule can I expect?

While we don’t require specific hours of engagement or attendance, we drive our entrepreneurs to embody the Founders Code, listed above. Our program is built on 3 key themes to help founders to drive their startups to the next level: goal setting, access to curated mentors, and support from a peer network. We do this through live speakers, curriculum, working groups, virtual events, and 1:1 mentorship.

We aim to schedule speakers and live virtual events on pre-identified days (e.g Tuesdays) to support your schedule. In addition to the above, curriculum will be recorded to increase access and utility. You will work with your mentor and working groups according to the groups schedule and availability.

You will get out of the MassChallenge Accelerator what you put in.

What happens next?

Applications are open from Feb 17 – March 31. Your application will go through the first round of judging. If you are selected to move on to the second round of judging, which will include a live pitch, you will be notified of your advancement the week of May 10.

The second round of judging will take place between the weeks of May 17 – June 11, depending on which program location you are selected to pitch for. Startups selected for the programs will be notified the week of June 21.

The program will kick off on June 28 and will run through the end of September, followed by two additional rounds of judging to compete for cash prizes. The final awards ceremony will take place in late October.

What is your policy on intellectual property protection?  

Protection of intellectual property rights (ex. patents, trademarks, copyright, trade secrets, etc.) of your concept is your responsibility and your responsibility alone. If you have an idea or product that you might want to patent, we strongly recommend speaking to a lawyer before submitting information about this idea to MassChallenge. 

Information you include in your application will be shared with the set of expert judges that review your application. Please note that these judges do NOT sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). Therefore, you should not include any information in your application that you feel could be harmful to your company should that information be disclosed.

Note that applying to MassChallenge is very similar to presenting your idea to potential investors. Very few investors (Venture Capitalists or "angel investors") will agree to sign an NDA before even hearing your initial pitch. It is up to you to determine the right balance between sharing enough information to get people interested and to give you credibility - and sharing information that could potentially be damaging to your company if it were to be disclosed. 

What resources or scholarships will be provided for relocating, living, and working in my program’s home city? 

Unfortunately, we don't have the capability to provide any scholarships or sponsorships for the startups. We recommend you fundraise and budget for any relocation or commute to one of our early-stage program headquarters. If you are out of country, it's important to remember that you cannot work unlawfully while in the US while under a visitor visa. Remember, for 2021 all programs will be virtual until world events allow.

What are the visa requirements and what steps do I need to complete if I am coming from out of country? 

You will need a B1 or B2 visa. It is important not to use the word "work" in your visa application for either of these, as MassChallenge does not constitute as work. If you will need a letter from MassChallenge as proof of your reason in the country. Please reach out to earlystage@masschallenge.org, and include each team member's name and title that will be requiring a letter. 

You may also need to prove you have the financial resources to live in the US for the 4-month duration of the program, as well as proof you plan to return to your country. Proof that you will return home include things like proof of home ownership, proof you are leaving a family behind, a letter from your startup stating you will return to work on the startup which is based in your home country.

It is important NOT to use the ESTA program ("visa waiver") as you can only stay in the country for 90 days, after which you MUST leave and cannot return. 

I have more questions. Where can I find answers?

Attend one of our many info sessions or watch a recording here. If you still have questions, reach out to earlystage@masschallenge.org
 

Additional Questions: General MassChallenge, Global and Vertical

How can I learn more about MassChallenge and its programs?

  • Sign up for our newsletter or connect with us on social media
  • Contact MassChallenge directly here.

How do I apply for a MassChallenge accelerator program?

Visit our “How to Apply” page to learn more about our application process and to apply for open programs.

How does the accelerator work?

MassChallenge runs one accelerator program in each of our locations and in each of our verticals each year. 

In our accelerators (Boston, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, Texas), selected startups are early-stage (<$1M in funding and <$2M in annual revenue) and participate in a four-month, industry-agnostic accelerator where they receive:

  • Hands-on support from top mentors and experts
  • Free co-working space
  • Access to MassChallenge’s unrivalled network of corporate partners
  • Tailored workshops and office hours
  • The opportunity to win a portion of more than $2M in cash prizes

In our vertical accelerators (MassChallenge HealthTech & MassChallenge FinTech), selected startups are later stage (<$10M in funding and <$10M in annual revenue) and participate in a six month long program where startups:

  • Partner with a top business, institution, or organization to solve key challenges related to their industry.
  • Partners support startups with:
    • Co-development opportunities
    • Product validation
    • Strategic investments
    • Customer connections
    • Advisor introductions
  • Get free co-working space in Boston
  • Have the opportunity to win cash prizes

What kind of companies do you accelerate?

For our accelerators Boston, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, Texas, and Rhode Island we accept applications from early-stage startups across all industries, from anywhere in the world. Prospective startups should be ready to make a big impact in your industry and should have raised less than $1M in equity-based funding and generated less than $2M in revenue. If your startup exceeds these guidelines, we still recommend that you apply for the accelerator program.  There will be an opportunity on the application for you to provide more information about your current funding amounts. There is no lower-level funding or business development limit to apply to MassChallenge. 

For our vertical accelerators MassChallenge HealthTech and MassChallenge FinTech, we accept applications from industry-focused startups that have raised less than $10M in equity-based funding and generated less than $10M in revenue. If your startup exceeds these guidelines, we still recommend that you apply for the accelerator program. MassChallenge staff reserves the right to deem applications as ineligible and you are not guaranteed feedback. There will be an opportunity on the application for you to provide more information about your current funding amounts. Prospective startups should be developed enough to work collaboratively with a large business or institution. 

What does MassChallenge look for in a startup?

MassChallenge judges look for high-impact startups, with a viable path to success and some traction/progress in their plans.


How is MassChallenge different from other accelerators?

  • MassChallenge does not take equity from the startups we support (yes, really). 
  • MassChallenge is open to startups across any industry, from anywhere in the world.
  • MassChallenge is a global network, which means more resources and more access for all startups.
  • MassChallenge is one of the largest accelerators in the world - which means more resources for our startups.
  • MassChallenge uses a competition framework to facilitate our accelerator program:
  • We use two rounds of judging during the application process to select startups for the cohort.
    • Experts from the startup community serve as MassChallenge judges.
    • Cash prizes are awarded at the end of the MassChallenge accelerator, based on a final round of judging.

Does MassChallenge provide funding for startups?

Startups do not receive any upfront funding but do have the opportunity to compete for approximately $3 million in zero-equity cash awards at the end of the program. MassChallenge does offer a limited number of scholarships, provided by our sponsor organizations.

What is the time commitment for startups in the accelerator program?

We know from experience that it's easier to take advantage of all MassChallenge has to offer when you or someone from your team is working onsite. MassChallenge expects active, consistent engagement in the accelerator program. This requires regular, physical presence from at least one team founder in your MassChallenge office for the duration of the accelerator program you are participating in.

What is your policy on intellectual property protection?

Protection of intellectual property rights (ex. patents, trademarks, copyright, trade secrets, etc.) of your concept is your responsibility and your responsibility alone. If you have an idea or product that you might want to patent, we strongly recommend speaking to a lawyer before submitting information about this idea to MassChallenge.  

Information you include in your application will be shared with the set of expert judges that review your application. Please note that these judges do NOT sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs). Therefore, you should not include any information in your application that you feel could be harmful to your company should that information be disclosed.

Note that applying to MassChallenge is very similar to presenting your idea to potential investors. Very few investors (Venture Capitalists or "angel investors") will agree to sign an NDA before even hearing your initial pitch. It is up to you to determine the right balance between sharing enough information to get people interested and to give you credibility - and sharing information that could potentially be damaging to your company if it were to be disclosed.
 

Mission

Our mission is to equip bold entrepreneurs to disrupt the status quo and to create meaningful change.