MassChallenge, the global startup accelerator that opened an office in Dallas last year, works with hundreds of experts in North Texas. Now it’s scouting the terrain for corporate partners willing to help supercharge Dallas’ innovation journey to “iconic” status.
A world-class accelerator on a par with Y Combinator and TechStars, MassChallenge distinguishes itself with a zero-equity, nonprofit business model that relies on earned revenue from individual donors, as well as strategic and corporate partners.
According to a new PitchBook report, MassChallenge ranks third among the nation’s largest accelerators, behind Y Combinator and Techstars, in terms of exit value and unicorn creation rate.
So far, North Texas has yielded more than 700 experts who help the group’s startups succeed by serving as mentors, judges, and speakers. Among them are investors, serial entrepreneurs, and subject matter experts from the likes of universities, the corporate sector, and government.
“As we think about, ‘How does Dallas go from emerging to iconic?’ it’s really about the participation of individuals who are passionate about growing innovation here, and are willing to open networks,” said Cait Brumme, the MassChallenge CEO. “We think that’s really exciting and an area for growth.”
The nonprofit’s July 11-13 MC | Innovate 2023 conference marked MassChallenge’s first big splash in North Texas, following its “soft launch” early last year at Dallas’ Pegasus Park.
The Boston-based accelerator, which also has locations in Rhode Island, Israel, Mexico, and Switzerland, entered the Texas market in 2017 with an office in Austin before expanding to Houston two years later.
Expanding to North Texas
Since its arrival in the Lone Star State, it’s convened a number of accelerator programs, verticals, and pitch competitions for high-potential Texas companies in healthcare and life sciences, high tech, retail and consumer goods, cleantech and energy, and social impact.
The expansion into North Texas, in partnership with Lyda Hill Philanthropies, had MassChallenge taking space with the Health Wildcatters’ seed accelerator at Pegasus Park and establishing a footprint in the region’s innovation ecosystem.
MassChallenge’s presence here “is a signal of our region’s rich history of supporting entrepreneurs, and will augment North Texas’s reputation for scientific and medical innovation,” Lyda Hill said in a 2022 statement.
‘Texas has a lot of advantages with talent’
MC | Innovate also marked the start of Pegasus Park serving as home for the Health Tech Track within MassChallenge’s flagship U.S. Early Stage Program. That’s a recognition of this area’s strength in life sciences, though Boston remains the industry’s U.S. leader.
North Texas is “beyond nascent” in life sciences, said Damon Cox, head of Next Practice and Inclusive Growth at MassChallenge.
“When I speak to investors, funders, and VCs, they’re looking outside Massachusetts for talent and new geographies. I think Texas is one of those geographies they’re looking at as being a space where innovative life sciences and biotech ideas and companies can emerge from,” Cox said.
“Texas has a lot of advantages with talent and a more affordable cost of living, comparatively speaking. We find an immense amount of talent coming out of this area, and that’s why we’re here.”
Jon Nordby, who forged the organization’s relationship with Lyda Hill, said that when MassChallenge ponders expanding into a region, it considers whether the area presents a “unique opportunity” for the global startup community, and whether there are enough startups applying to its programs to create a sort of regional relevancy.
Launching the Human Potential Program
“In North Texas certainly there’s a lot of biotech, but we’ve also really honed in here on the ‘human potential’ aspect, or sports tech—physical and mental health performance and recovery,” said Nordby, MassChallenge’s Houston-based head of Texas ecosystems. “There’s a lot of interest and great results in this space, and we’re actually launching a human-potential accelerator with a lot of components in Dallas” this year.
The Human Potential Program, which will focus on areas including wearable devices, artificial intelligence, and neurofeedback and cognitive enhancement, will begin accepting applications on Aug. 14. The program (see landing page here) will culminate with an in-person Demo Day in Dallas on Nov. 7.
Many of MassChallenge’s corporate partners have operations in North Texas, Brumme says.
However, the CEO adds, “We’d love to have some of Dallas’s most iconic companies also team up, and we’re working on it.”
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