MassChallenge heads to Mexico City for its fifth startup accelerator location

Carolina Aguilar, at left, demonstrates the video generated by a Bounce Imaging camera for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch during a 2015 tour of the MassChallenge offices.
Carolina Aguilar, at left, demonstrates the video generated by a Bounce Imaging camera for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch during a 2015 tour of the MassChallenge offices.

MassChallenge, the large startup accelerator program that gives free office space and no-strings-attached grants to emerging companies, is opening its fifth location in Mexico City.

MassChallenge will begin accepting applications for the Mexico City program in mid-May, and could wind up including about 50 companies in the first class, MassChallenge managing director Scott Bailey said Wednesday. MassChallenge is also working to assemble the sponsors who will bankroll its pool of grant awards for the program’s top startups, Bailey said.

The Boston-based nonprofit organization began seriously planning a Mexico-based branch of its entrepreneurship program in the fall. At that time, MassChallenge said it had lined up financial support from government and corporate sources, including the government of Mexico City and airline company Aeromexico.

That follows the blueprint that MassChallenge established when it launched in Boston in 2010 with a mix of state and corporate financial sponsors. Unlike some private startup accelerator programs, MassChallenge does not take any investment stake in its companies.

Instead, the startups are given a place to work on their ideas and access to experienced business mentors, along with the chance to win cash prizes at the program’s conclusion. This fall, the Boston program awarded a total of $1.5 million to 16 companies.

Mexico is something of an unconventional choice for a new MassChallenge location, following previous expansions to Israel, Switzerland, and the UK, which have more developed entrepreneurship sectors. But MassChallenge has also accepted an increasing number of Latin American startups into its program in Boston — eight of the competition’s finalists since 2014 have been from Mexico, and one of the top grant-winners last year was Estrenon, a startup working to build used-clothing stores in Mexico.

“It’s more of an emerging market,” Bailey said. “They’re very interested in collaborating and being connected to these global entrepreneurial communities, and they’re interested in learning. But I also think they have a lot to share.”

MassChallenge has said it hopes to expand to 10 cities by 2019. The program is also building connections to entrepreneurs in France through a partnership with Big Booster, a startup accelerator based in Lyon. Winners from that program are in Boston this week for a “boot camp” tour of the MassChallenge headquarters.

MassChallenge is now accepting applications for its flagship Boston program and its new Swiss branch in Geneva.