Innovation Blog

MassChallenge Alumni Explain: What to Expect from a Virtual Accelerator


Similar to the majority of the world only one year ago, MassChallenge programming went completely virtual. To continue supporting founders, their ground-breaking technologies, and businesses in the midst of a global pandemic, we pivoted our platform to meet the changing needs of the entrepreneurs we support. What we didn’t realize at the time however was how effective and impactful the new accelerator model would be.

With applications OPEN for our 2021 programs, and Industry Tracks now accessible to ALL cohort members, we’re excited to continue this virtual experience this year. That’s why we asked 2020 alumni about their experiences going digital—to offer future cohort members insight into what to expect from this year’s programs.

What were your thoughts when you found out you’d be participating in the cohort virtually?

Virtual programming was an unexpected but ultimately welcome opportunity for 2020 cohort members. As Sarah Hill of Healium (2020 Houston Gold Award winner) put it: “I was excited because I’d still be able to keep tabs on our home base operations.” Rajesh Gopi of TWO12 (Austin 2020) was thrilled as well, noting that virtual accelerators were a “better use of time” and made it easier to connect and work with local mentors.

What advantages do you think going virtual brought your startup as a cohort member?

Not leaving HQ and having more time on the clock weren’t the only benefits that founders like Sarah and Rajesh enjoyed during our 2020 programs. Fewer scheduling conflicts and broader interactions with professionals revealed a networking dream come true, shattering geographic hurdles that prevent early-stage founders from meeting and collaborating with diverse partners.

Additionally, according to Nicholas Rance of MatchLab AI (Boston 2020), the number one advantage of virtual programming is that “…all the talks and workshops were recorded, so even 6 months later I frequently rewatch sessions.”

Matt Francis of Ozark Integrated Circuits, Inc (2020 Houston Gold Award winner) added that virtual programming “…made it much easier to be involved, and involve more of our team.”

Shironda White of CauseEDU (2020 Boston Quin Impact Awards winner) shared a similar experience: “My team was located across three states, so it made it easier for all three of us to participate in all of the events.”

What did you learn from our virtual cohort that you use in your startup’s day-to-day operations?

Over the course of the MassChallenge program—between cohort meetups and networking sessions, mentor meetings, and expert discussions—founders acquire a wide breadth of wisdom and have access to an abundance of resources. These are tools they can apply directly to their business strategies. For example, among the most valuable lessons that Anthony Gantt of At Ease Rentals Corporation (2020 Austin Gold Award winner) learned was “how to adapt and continue pushing forward.”

Sarah Hill told us that virtual programming taught her that “it doesn’t always matter where you’re located. We are all just a video call away from each other.”

According to Nicholas Rance, “the most valuable part of the virtual cohort was the frequent knowledge sharing as part of a peer group. I continue to touch base with members of my “wolfpack” for advice.”

Shironda White added: “I learned about new online communities, which I don’t think would have happened otherwise. This could be useful as CauseEDU thinks through how to expand our online platform as we scale.”

Having been through this virtually, what do you think you missed from being in person?

The human connection seems to be the biggest, and most obvious, loss. Matching “face-to-name” and establishing stronger bonds with mentors and fellow members were among the limitations noted by founders. According to Sarah Hill, “there’s no substitute for real in-person human interaction. But virtual is the next best thing.”

While we can’t create an environment that produces handshakes, hugs and high fives right now, our virtual happy hours are an excellent way to get to know fellow founders better and build up professional relationships. We also recommend considering confirming your interest to join an Industry Track when you submit your MC21 application, which is a way to reach a specialized ecosystem of peers, mentors and industry champions.

Applications close March 31, 2021 @ 12PM ET. We look forward to your submissions and hope to be right by your side (virtually) as you transform your ideas into game-changing, ground-breaking, live-saving innovations. Apply to MC21 here.

Hear directly from MassChallenge alumni on March 25, 2021 @ 12PM ET about their accelerator experience and how they prioritized this opportunity against building a business.


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