Mass Challenge

United States

U.S. Early Stage

More than an Accelerator

The MassChallenge Early Stage accelerator is a 3-month mentor-based program that provides intensive support, guidance, tools and connectivity to the MassChallenge community in order to drive startup business traction. The program is industry agnostic with a focus on supporting approximately 200 startups per cohort that range in stage from those currently engaged in customer discovery work to validating a technology or service.

 

The upcoming program will run in a hybrid format with the first and final weeks in-person, and the rest of the program operates with a mix of in-person options and virtual curriculum.

Applications Are Open

U.S. Early Stage applications are open until March 3rd, 2023. We encourage you to apply as early as possible.

Industry Tracks

The US Early Stage Program also features special, industry-specific programming referred to as “Tracks”. These tracks provide additional sessions and networking opportunities with leading experts from each respective track related industry.

 

  • Safety & Security
  • HealthTech
  • Climate Solutions
  • Social Impact
  • Sustainable Food

Founders Accepted into the Program Gain Access to:

 

  • Leanstack Training: We are proud to be partnering with Leanstack, a continuous innovation platform that helps early-stage entrepreneurs find repeatable and scalable business models.
  • World class industry experts and mentors along with 1:1 mentorship opportunities.
  • 40+ global corporate partners including IBM, BAE Systems, Carta, Fundify, First Republic Bank, and more
  • Connections to a network of Community and Ecosystem partners including Venture Café Providence, MassBio, Black Ambition Prize, Houston Downtown Launchpad, Pegasus Park and Biolabs in Dallas, and more.
  • Investor Pitch Events
  • Opportunities to win non-dilutive cash prizes and other in-kind awards upon successful Program completion.
  • Co-working residency opportunities in our local MassChallenge offices
  • Continued support and resources as part of a MassChallenge Alumni community

 

Eligibility Guidelines

We welcome all applicants who can benefit from our Early Stage Program. Please note the following:

  • The program experience is tailored for early-stage companies, from the ideation stage to early market engagement.
  • This generally correlates to startups that have generated less than $1M in equity-based funding and $2M in annual revenue.

Please note these are guidelines, not firm requirements. While funding and revenue are important factors, we realize that in some markets, startups are considered early stage with greater initial funding or higher annual revenue.

“If you had asked me before MassChallenge if I thought that NASA could be one of our bigger funders or partners, the answer would have been no.”

 

– Dr. Nicole Wagner, President and CEO of LambdaVision, U.S. Early Stage 2016

Key Dates

US Early Stage Program Timeline 2023
“I learned so much in that four-month period. I was able to greatly build upon my business acumen, increase my confidence to sit at the bigger tables and have access to those nuanced cheat codes that are more available to the typical white cis-male entrepreneur. It was a game-changing experience.”
Janice Omadeke
Janice Omadeke
Founder and CEO of The Mentor Method, MC 2018
"Our mentors really pushed us to take the next step with our company. As MassChallenge grows, they have a bigger and bigger network that we can leverage. Making that step and seeing the impact our product had was incredible."
Erin Keaney
Erin Keaney
COO of Nonspec, MC 2017

Early Stage Partners

FAQs

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. 

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. 

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.  

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. 

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.  

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.  

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.   

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.  

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 

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 

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.  

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.  

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.  

  • 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. 

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