MassChallenge, probably the best startup competition in the world

On January 31 the White House celebrated the MassChallenge Startup Competition and Accelerator as one of the most promising initiatives in the USA for supporting entrepreneurs and announced MassChallenge as a partner in the new Startup America Partnership, an independent entity co-funded by the Kauffman Foundation and the Case Foundation to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate once more time high-growth entrepreneurship. But, what makes MassChallenge so special?

Well, they say they saw a gap: plenty of novice entrepreneurs and a lack of advice and funding to bring their ideas to life. Therefore, what the founders claim to be the world’s largest and strongest start-up competition was launched. In fact, any idea from any sector coming from anywhere in the world would be accepted. The first edition started back in April and ended in October last year. Not only did they give 4 $100,000 and 12 $50,000 awards in cash but also, and maybe more valuable, public relations promotion and marketing exposure for all the participants to the Massachusetts ecosystem, probably second only to the Silicon Valley cluster.

After registering, the entrants were invited to start making connections through the competition web-portal with the right resources to get support and refine their idea, team and, most of all, elevator pitch. In fact, within mid-June they would have to submit a written and a video elevator pitch, 16 questions making a 2-page executive summary and what the organizers had called endorsement points, i.e. a system intended to encourage and capture once more time networking and referral. A first round judging selected the semi-finalist teams based on judges scores, public ratings of video pitches and endorsement points. Within mid-July the semi-finalist teams prepared only a 10 minute in-person pitch for the second round judging, shortlisting the finalist teams. At this stage, each team was offered what the organizer had called the 3 month acceleration phase. It consisted on a dedicated mentor, a law firm offering free advice, free office and/or laboratory space and even more targeted events to practice the final pitches from which the organizers would identify the about 30 final awardees. But there is more. Actually, MassChallenge organized for them pitches to other key resources not directly involved with the competition: potential executives, angels investors, venture capitalists, foundations and quasi/government organization groups. Among others, there were the US government Small Business Innovation Research, the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and the New England Clean Energy Council. To give an idea of the buzz around MassChallenge and their tireless activism, even a government fund and development institute of the Russian Federation, named The Russian Venture Company, became official partner of the competition in order, the Russians said, “to form a steady positive attitude towards Russian innovative-technology companies on the global market”.

A this point, I do not want to make a mere list of the team awarded and their ideas, you can take a look right here. On the contrary, given also that I have personally joined a couple of similar competitions in my life, and won one of them by the way, I’d like to conclude by answering the initial question: what makes MassChallenge very special. And what every start-up competition should be based upon.

  • Not only business plans. The MassChallenge organizers required the 2-page executive summer previously mentioned, basically to enter the competition. After that, they required only pitches: the initial one facing your camera to be rated by the web audience, the second one facing a real audience to enter the 3 month acceleration phase, some more pitches facing external parties to get founded right away without waiting for the competition to end and eventually the final pitch to grab the $50,000 or even $100,000 prizes.
  • Not only cash. As it is clearly stated in the competition rules, the process of forming the start-up of each entrant is the focus of the competition. That is why the organizers came up with the endorsement system from the very beginning and scheduled plenty of public events every month, up to 17 in August and even 21 in September. The organizers nudged every entrant to promote themselves by networking and liaising with local ecosystem, to make the most out of it.

About Floriano Bonfigli
Floriano Bonfigli, husband and father. European rather than Italian. Educated at University of Bologna, Strathclyde University and Imperial College of London. Already worked as Research Engineer, Composite Engineer and Structural Analyst in the automotive, aerospace and marine sectors. Also spent some years in IT Product Management. Gerson Lerhman Group Council Member and Educator. Studied Innovation Technology & Management at ISTAO. Currently taking buzz out of Innovation at We Innov8! Last but not least, soccer player and basketball viewer...

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