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MassChallenge start-up competition picks 125 finalists for 2011

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 24, 2011 03:00 PM

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MassChallenge is announcing the 125 "finalist" companies that will be part of its 2011 program today; each finalist receives four months of free office space on the South Boston waterfront, mentorship from more experienced entrepreneurs and investors, and the chance to win a slice of the competition's $1 million in prize money. Unlike other start-up programs that focus just on Internet businesses, MassChallenge attracts biotech, energy, retail, consumer product, and non-profit entrants. The organizers say their goal is to "catalyze the launch and success of high-growth, high-impact new businesses."

Here's what's notable about this year's program:

1. The competition received 733 entries from 24 countries and 34 states, up from 446 entries last year. (Interest from Israel apparently perked up after Governor Deval Patrick led a recent trade mission there.) The finalists from outside the U.S. hail from Israel, Portugal, Canada, and South Korea.

2. The finalists include companies that have already participated in other start-up programs, like TechStars Boston, Dogpatch Labs Cambridge, and the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, and that it also includes several companies that were part of MassChallenge in 2010.

I asked MassChallenge CEO John Harthorne about giving alums of his competition a second go-round. He said that any start-up that won prize money in 2010 wasn't considered eligible to return. But, he added, "Many of the teams that entered last year were very early stage some of them just ideas. Some of those idea-stage entrants were still identifying the right target market and building out their business plan throughout the summer. While the mentoring and other benefits were extremely helpful for them during that process, it was more difficult for them to simultaneously compete against more established teams given their context. Following the competition, we felt that many of the alumni could still benefit from MassChallenge and deserved another shot at winning now that they had built out a more thorough plan." Like the other entrants, they needed to have raised less than $500,000 of funding so far, and be bringing in less than $1 million in annual revenue.

3. Last year's finalist set included 111 companies, so the program has grown a bit this year. Organizers call it the "world's largest global start-up competition."

4. The digital media and marketing trade association MITX will offer mentorship to companies participating in MassChallenge this year. MITX is also moving into MassChallenge's office space on Fan Pier, as I'd reported earlier on Twitter.

5. In the seven months since the 2010 program launched, last year's finalists have raised more than $30 million in funding and hired over 300 new employees, according to MassChallenge.

Here's the list of 125 finalists, in PDF form. The awards ceremony, at which $1 million in cash will be doled out, is scheduled for October 20th.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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