FAQ for Founders

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: MassChallenge Early-Stage US program 

MassChallenge’s US early-stage program supports entrepreneurs and their businesses through the early stages of development. Through a non-profit, zero equity accelerator model we support more than 400 startups a year, across all industries and from anywhere in the world. Our accelerator programs provide an efficient pathway to connect startups, experts, corporations, and communities to accelerate the growth of new technologies and businesses.  

Read our Q&A to learn more about the program benefits, the judging process, and more.  
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 offers zero-equity programs and a competition-based model to provide cash awards and other prizes to the top startups in the global network. We do not offer any investment or funding upfront but participating founders and program alumni can apply to compete for cash award prizes.  

How do you choose which companies to accept into the program?  
Founders who apply to our program go through two rounds of judging. The first is an online application review, and the second is a virtual pitch in front of a panel of judges. 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 that matches the criteria of the application and also provide a recommendation for participation along a scale from definitely no 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 offers zero-equity for zero-cost accelerators and does not charge an application fee to apply. All founders who participate in a MassChallenge program are not required to give up a financial stake in the future success of their company.  

Will the 2022 accelerator be virtual?  
This year’s MassChallenge US early stage program will be a completely virtual experience though founders located in cities where we have offices (Austin, Boston, Houston, Dallas, and Rhode Island) or those willing to travel to a location can apply for our residency program which provides them with free office space to work out of.  Additionally, in the 4th month of the program (October), we will host in-person Market Access events that our startups can attend. We may also offer some optional in-person networking events in locations where we have offices.   

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 is highly encouraged if you are invited to participate in Round Two judging, which is a 20-minute virtual pitch session.  

What engagement is expected?  
Expectations for engagement and eligibility criteria to apply 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 orientation held the week of July 11, 2022 

What kind of schedule can I expect for 2022? 
Our acceleration program is four months long and includes three months of diverse virtual curriculum (July 11 – Sep 23) and one month of optional “market access” opportunities (October).  

While we don’t require specific hours of engagement or attendance, we drive our entrepreneurs to embody the Founders Code, listed above.  
MassChallenge’s US early stage curriculum program is built on 3 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, all 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. 

The first three months of virtual curriculum  covers a diverse array of curriculum, including: 

  • 3 days of orientation (90 minutes of curriculum, optional networking sessions)  
  • 3 days a week of curriculum sessions - Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays (2 hours per day average)  
  • Curriculum sessions include live speakers, workshop sessions, themed roundtables, small group conversations, and virtual events 
  • 1 day a week of open office hours for programming questions (1 hour, attend as needed) 
  • Optional virtual networking and social events throughout the program  
  • 3 months of curriculum and 1 month of additional opportunities 

What is the Market Access Program? 
The Market Access Program is a new offering for MassChallenge community members. MassChallenge will organize a series of fixed duration “micro-programs” with the focused goal of helping founders build their network with key stakeholders in MassChallenge’s physical communities around the United States during the following dates in 2022: 

  • Dallas, Texas: October 3-5, 2022  
  • Houston, Texas: October 5-7, 2022  
  • Austin,Texas: October 11-13, 2022  
  • Providence, Rhode Island: October 13-14, 2022  
  • Boston, Massachusetts: October 17-19, 2022 

All startups in the 2022 accelerator will be eligible to attend Market Access Programs in any location.  

What happens next? 
Applications are open from March 8 – April 20 and the first round of judging will take place from April 11-May 2 during which your application will go through our vetted online judging process completed by MassChallenge judges. If you are invited to participate in the second round of judging – a live virtual pitch session with MassChallenge judges – you will receive an invitation to pitch the week of May 9. 

The second round of judging will take place virtually between June 1 – June 15 and startups selected to pitch in this round will be provided with a date and time for their virtual pitch in front of a panel of MassChallenge judges. Founders selected for the programs will receive invitations to participate the week of June 21.  

The MassChallenge 2022 US virtual early stage accelerator program begins the week of July 11 and ends the week of September 23, including our annual startup showcase on September 21.  Startups that wish to attend our market access events will be able to do so in the month of 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 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 for review. 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 traveling for this program?  
Our 2022 program is fully virtual, and we offer a residency program that provides founders with a free workspace at our offices in Austin, Boston, Houston, Dallas, and Providence. Unfortunately, we don't have the capability to provide scholarships or sponsorships for the founders who wish to participate in the residency program. We recommend you fundraise and budget for any relocation or commute to one of our early-stage program offices. If you are out of the country, it's important to remember that you cannot work unlawfully while in the US while under a visitor visa.  

What are the visa requirements and what steps do I need to complete if I am coming from out of the country?  
If you choose to take part in our optional residency program, 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 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 home country. Proof that you will return home country includes things like proof of home ownership, proof you are leaving a family behind, a letter from your business 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? 
If you still have questions, reach out to earlystage@masschallenge.org.  


How can I learn more about MassChallenge and its programs? 
Sign up for our newsletter and connect with us on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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. You can start your founder profile and startup application here

How does a MassChallenge accelerator work? 
MassChallenge runs one accelerator program in each of our locations and in each Challenge program location each year. We also run international programs in Israel, Mexico, and Switzerland, and additional programs through the Bridge to MassChallenge program.  

In our early stage accelerators, 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 (if they opt-in to our residency program) 
  • Access to MassChallenge’s unrivalled network of corporate partners 
  • Tailored workshops and office hours 
  • Market Access (month 4). 

Our Challenge programs for HealthTech and FinTech founders are open to industry-focused startups that have <$10M in funding and <$10M in revenue. 

What kind of companies do you accelerate? 
For our Early Stage accelerators, 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 challenge programs 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. 
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.  

MassChallenge reserves the right to deem applications as ineligible and you are not guaranteed feedback. 

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 founders. 
  • MassChallenge is one of the largest accelerators in the world - which means more resources for participating founders. 
  • 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. 

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

  • MassChallenge early stage programs are typically 4-months in duration including access to mentorship and curriculum, and optional market access programs.  
  • The Challenge programs are typically a 6-month duration.  

Still don’t have an answer to your question?  Email us at earlystage@masschallenge.org.   


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