10 August 2022

Inside MassChallenge: A Founder’s Experience and First Thoughts on the Social Impact Accelerator

Written by Hannah Le

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When I decided to apply to the MassChallenge Early Stage Accelerator, I told the Houston leadership team that I was going to listen to “Eye of the Tiger” over and over until I finished my application.

I listened to “Eye of the Tiger” approximately 157 times.

Not because the application was very long to do - but because I wanted to get my thoughts, words, and business assumptions right. As an early stage startup, I felt like MassChallenge asked me all the questions I needed to be thinking about from the moment I opened the application.

After making it through the final round and getting into MassChallenge, I’ve realized that they push me to answer the right questions at the right times. At the time of writing this, I am three weeks into the social impact accelerator, and here’s what I think of it so far.

In this article…

  • About Me and My Startup, RE.STATEMENT
  • Why I Applied to MassChallenge
  • What Shocked Me So Far in My MassChallenge Experience
  • My Hopes and Goals with MassChallenge
  • Recommendations for Startups Considering MassChallenge

About Me and My Startup, RE.STATEMENT

 

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Hannah Le, Founder of RE.STATEMENT

I’m Hannah M. Le, founder of RE.STATEMENT, the online marketplace of unique, upcycled clothing. RE.STATEMENT connects bold shoppers who want to stand out with eco-conscious designers who are making new, one-of-a-kind clothes out of used or unwanted materials. 

With a mission revolving around upcycling and the circular economy, we help consumers put a voice in the room, for themselves and for the planet, before they say a single word.

I’ve spent years at social impact startups, applying behavioral economics and consumer psychology as a marketing and product manager.

But every so often, I think about how much I miss the fashion world. I think about my subtly-inappropriate clothing companies from college. I think about how the first job I wanted as a kid was to be a fashion designer, and how at a very young age, I loved sewing with the scraps of fabric my mom saved. And I think about how in the early days of the pandemic, my mom upcycled and gave away over one thousand gorgeous face masks made from the unused fabric from her alterations work.

By understanding why people shop for clothing in the first place and applying these needs through the most feasible path towards sustainable fashion, I’m proud of RE.STATEMENT’s undeniable future impact while still progressing a day at a time with the help of MassChallenge.

Why I Applied to MassChallenge

Because a few people in my startup network told me to - hey, I’m being honest and owe it to them!

In all seriousness, knowing how significant MassChallenge is made it a little daunting. At the time of my application, I was barely two months into RE.STATEMENT’s formation. I felt like the most intimidated baby company ever, knowing that I was among over a thousand companies applying to this accelerator.

However, I knew that I wanted to participate with these startups. . Here are just three reasons why I applied to the MassChallenge Early Stage accelerator for social impact startups:

1. The Community of Support

Hearing about the network of connections, mentors, and advisors, I hoped MassChallenge could introduce me to experts in fashion or lifestyle media, supply chain, and web development. 

The purest, most valuable asset MassChallenge could offer would be their network of leaders with stories and experiences I can learn from. So far, that has proven to be widely available. Every person I connect with is able to offer me difficult questions that I’m ready to make myself answer and meaningful advice that keeps turning the gears in my mind.

2. Inspirational Founders

I’ve always been a firm believer in hanging out with people who are better than me, so that they’d motivate me to be better as well.

MassChallenge accepts only the most dedicated founders with extreme passion and grit for building their startups, and it is so humbling to be in their cohort. No matter the industry, MassChallenge startups are solving massive problems in the world. Ambition doesn’t get that much stronger than that.

However, just because expectations are high, doesn’t mean that my peers and I can’t be honest with each other about the struggles we’re going through or how we’re tackling age-old problems that every startup founder comes across. I aspire to share my experience, both highs and lows, with those in my cohort and hope they do the same. That way we’ll be able to learn from each other, ask for advice, help each other through tough times, and celebrate the wins.

3. Zero Equity and Funding Prizes

Also, you can’t really resist a zero equity accelerator with opportunities to win funding prizes for your company’s progress. What do you have to lose?

Although it isn’t at all the focus of the MassChallenge experience, it is a VERY much appreciated aspect of the accelerator - not just because of the funds, but also because of the exposure my company can get and the iterations and practice I will make to found a company that creates real value for society and learn how to communicate my efforts through a pitch.

What Shocked Me So Far in My MassChallenge Experience

While MassChallenge has easily met the expectations I had when I was considering applying, there are a few things that I am shocked and delighted that MassChallenge offers early stage startups. 

I’ll also include a few fun facts that I wish I knew about before applying.

1. Mentor Expertise

I had heard about MassChallenge’s mentor matching process a little bit before applying, but I was shocked to discover how impressive their mentor directory is.

We answered a few profile questions about where our startup is at and what we were potentially looking for in a mentor, and the matches I’ve gotten back have been spot on. I’ve even gotten mentors who fit needs that I don’t even remember asking for in my profile, such as experience as a solo founder and non-technical web development skills. Then, all I had to do was send the first introductory email.

But don’t expect MassChallenge to do all the work for you. You really get as much out of the program as much as you put into it, meaning that you could find additional mentors if you search through the directory and reach out to the ones you think could be a good fit. By doing this, I found mentors who had won media and entertainment awards, who specialized specifically in the fashion entrepreneurship sector, and are even partners at large venture capital firms.

2. In-Network Deals and Partnerships

Now this perk overwhelmed me in the best way. MassChallenge has so many corporate partners who offer SAAS products, legal advice, web services, and more. I had to really learn to prioritize what I needed first and learn what to ask for.

MassChallenge partners are big name companies who are willing to meet startups at the stage they’re at to help them grow. Not only do some offer up to 90% discounts on their services for the first year, but others even host virtual workshops, fireside chats, and round table discussions to help startups think more strategically.

This partnership network is constantly in process of growing, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked for help from MassChallenge and they pointed me in the direction of a partner they had been talking to. These business relationships seem infinite!

3. Residency Program and Co-Working Spaces

This year is the first year MassChallenge adopted the hybrid model of having both virtual learning sessions and an in-office workspace. They have a residency program you can apply to if you are in or are able to work from five different locations: Boston, Houston, Austin, Dallas, or Rhode Island.

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Inside the MassChallenge Houston Office

I chose to do my residency in Houston, where fortunately, their office is less than 10 minutes from my house. What really surprised me though was how massive the workspace was. With over 20 long shared desks, two large conference rooms, countless meeting rooms that varied in size, and a kitchen. The coworking space is very welcoming for the cohort to meet and share.

My Hopes and Goals with MassChallenge

By the end of this accelerator, I hope to accomplish two main goals:

  • To make the most out of the resources I’ve been offered
  • To make MassChallenge proud for making the right call in believing in me

I hope to be able to focus on building my product while still keeping in mind the multitude of offers and opportunities from MassChallenge, and to prioritize my needs and match them with MassChallenge’s advantages so nothing goes unused.

It can be overwhelming to realize that there are so many parts of a business that you either already think about or will have to think about at some point in the future, and MassChallenge does a great job at laying it all out there. It’s up to me to prioritize what comes first for RE.STATEMENT.

Then I want to be proud of how far I’ve come along while less than one year into my startup, and for MassChallenge to recognize that RE.STATEMENT is exceeding its true potential impact and that their faith in my company will pay off.

I always feel that my words never give my gratitude enough justice, and a big goal of mine is to be able to give back to the accelerator and the community that has given me so much when I came to them with nothing more than an application, a pitch deck, and some user traction. Whether it’s becoming a mentor myself or contributing to alumni funds in the future, I hope a big part of my legacy is given to those who will have gotten me to where I end up.

Recommendations for Startups Considering MassChallenge

Whether you are already a part of MassChallenge or considering applying, I have a few words of advice and recommendations that I hope you’ll keep in mind.

  1. If you’re thinking about applying: just do it. Mark down in your calendar when the application opens and is due, and just make sure it gets done. You have nothing to lose! But apply with intention. Think about what you want out of the program, and be honest, thorough, and deliberate in your application so that judges understand you are serious about your startup.
  2. Once you’re a part of MassChallenge: map out your resources, goals, and priorities as soon as you can. You are going to have so many opportunities coming your way - definitely make the most of them, but don’t forget where your priorities are. You are fully capable of keeping matters in your own hands.
  3. As you wrap up the MassChallenge accelerator program: make it easy for others to understand what you do and what impact you make. I know so many startups are solving existential problems with products or services that may be difficult to explain, but it’s up to you to help others learn what you do so that they can support and make an impact too.

Best of luck to you and your startup journey! If you have any questions about my experience with RE.STATEMENT or MassChallenge, you can connect with me on LinkedIn here.

 

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