It’s accelerator season: Here’s how to make the cut at LearnLaunchX, MassChallenge, and more

Keo Rattana and mentor Pradeep Aradhya have worked to launch her vegan ice cream business. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
Keo Rattana and mentor Pradeep Aradhya have worked to launch her vegan ice cream business. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)

There are a lot of accelerators gearing up this time of year in Boston. Between LearnLaunchX, The Sandbox, and both MassChallenge and TiE Challenge, there is plenty of help to move from startup dream to reality.

LearnLaunchX just closed, but it will be starting a new cycle in the fall. They look for ed tech companies with a lot of traction.  The specific areas they look for are:

  • Is it focused on education?
  • Is it scalable?
  • Is it investable?
  • Is it marketable and of great importance?
  • Is the team experienced?

That last one is very important. Rarely do they take on a one-man team.  They look for teams that have had previous successes.  Also, the product must be valuable to and make an impact in the field. LearnLaunchX judges look at proof that the concept is actually working, i.e., studies performed, field work completed, or a product well tested.  The application process is highly competitive and only a small fraction of applicants are accepted.  However, they are well worth the effort for the companies that are successful applicants.  Although they declined to state the number of applications received for the winter accelerator, they did say teams from across the world applied.

It seems the Merrimack Valley Sandbox in Lowell always has something exciting going on. They just closed a pitch contest that drew 67 applicants.  Their summer accelerator deadline is May 1.

“We’ll be accepting about thirteen to eighteen companies,” said Lianna Kushi, director of the program.  “We expect about 80 applicants.”  That’s a much higher admittance rate compared to LearnLaunchX.

“We look for entrepreneurs with a lot of passion about their idea,” Lianna said about the judging criteria.  Having a well-researched idea is also considered. “We look for very early stage companies.  The typical applicant is pre-profit, usually less than two years old, and must not have raised more than [$25,000].”

She admitted on some occasions they have made exceptions.

“We say, ‘entrepreneurship for all.’  We consider any idea – some type of store; any technology; a nonprofit,” she said.

The mega-accelerator in town is MassChallenge.  Their application process brings in thousands of applicants, and in 2013 they evaluated 1,200 companies.

They look for big ideas.

“We’re looking for high impact companies,” Shannon Sullivan said.  The ideal company will look to change the world.  Something social, a company involved with the environment, or just something that consumers of businesses will use each and every day.

Their deadline is April 2, and the actual accelerator program runs from June through September 2014.

So why the fuss?  In addition to being the world’s largest accelerator, winning participants (MassChallenge has a contest structure where certain teams advance) receive a number of benefits:

  • Finalists receive free resources in Massachusetts including mentorship, work space, strategic advice, and networking opportunities to further their businesses.
  • Award recipients receive approximately $50,000 to $100,000 in cash, business guidance, public relations promotion, and marketing exposure from the competition.

Finally, there is TiE Challenge. Executive director Vanita Shastri said applications are wide open:  “All they need is a compelling idea.  We look for companies that are not mature.”

“TiE attracts Boston’s most successful entrepreneurs as members.  We are all seasoned entrepreneurs that want only to help others succeed.  We also have TiE Angels that invest in entrepreneurs, and winning the Challenge helps with that process.

The people at TiE emphasize that they are not competing with MassChallenge, and in fact, the two programs are designed to compliment each other. The perks of TiE:

  • Winners are given the opportunity to present to TiE Angels for investments up to $1 million.
  • A full year of mentoring.
  • Cash prizes.
  • Access to the membership.
  • Office space (like the other accelerators).

Why might TiE be the best fit for your company?  In an email, Vanita said, “TiE Challenge program is run by experienced entrepreneurs, many of whom have taken companies public and had multi-billion dollar exits.”

Who wouldn’t want to chat with a billionaire about their business?