MassChallenge launched another year of its accelerator program this morning with an event kicking off the annual opening of its application period. But this year, there was a different look to the proceedings.
For the first time, Scott Bailey, recently named the managing director of the Boston branch of MassChallenge, was leading the event, instead of co-founder Akhil Nigam and chief mentorship officer Karl Büttner, who both stepped down late last year.
In another first, Deval Patrick, who was integral in getting MassChallenge off the ground years ago as governor, did not preside over the launch. Instead, that honor went to current Governor Charlie Baker, who spoke about innovation throughout the state as well as his experience watching startups succeed and fail while working for venture capital firm General Catalyst.
Baker, who first visited the accelerator during his gubernatorial campaign, likened MassChallenge to American Idol. Those who “make the cut” get access to “pros,” he said, of the experienced business leaders, startup founders, and other tech industry folks that help the startups take their initial ideas and turn them into companies.
“They take their skill, their talent, their vision, and their purpose, and mold it into something that can be not just a great idea, but a great product, and hopefully, a great company,” Baker said. He added that like American Idol, you don’t have to win at MassChallenge to become a success.
“The opportunity that people have to be part of this, to be part of this ecosystem,” the governor added, “is very special, and very important. Not just for the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or the people here today, but for anybody who believes, as I do, that great ideas are ultimately the key to many things.”
The officially opening of this application period occurred simultaneously at MassChallenge’s three international locations: Boston, Jerusalem, and the new UK-based MassChallenge program in London. As part of the international launch, all three offices rang a gong to signify the start of this year’s program.
Des Pieri, MassChallenge’s chief operating officer, talked about the accelerator’s global ambitions, and his plans to open 10 programs in 10 international cities over the next five years. He discussed the small MassChallenge operations already in the works in Colombia, Mexico, and Switzerland, and then introduced London Mayor Boris Johnson and Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, to share their thoughts on the impact the programs have already had on their cities.
“I think MassChallenge is going to make an enormous contribution to London,” Mayor Johnson said in a pre-recorded video.
At the event, MassChallenge also officially announced the launch of MADE@ MassChallenge, the accelerator’s 5,000-square-foot maker space that will open in March. MADE@ will be housed in an adjacent space in the Innovation & Design Building and will give MassChallenge startups access to advanced electronics and prototyping capabilities, as well as training, equipment, and office space. MADE@ was made possible by investments and donated equipment from Jabil, MassDevelopment, and Lightspeed Manufacturing.
For Scott Bailey, today’s launch served as a culmination of months of planning, but also signifies a fresh beginning. “We want to do more, especially engage the community and connect with parts of the state’s innovation ecosystem that we haven’t reached yet,” Bailey said.
Baker concluded his talk, speaking about how Massachusetts has always been a state that has led by its wits. “Organizations like MassChallenge, which create a venue and a place and an opportunity for those who get that,” Baker said. “To have the chance to do great things, that’s what Massachusetts is all about, and that’s a big part of what makes this so great.”