MassChallenge: Accelerating Start-Ups Through Non-Profit Work

Founded in Boston in 2009, MassChallenge’s creators, John Harthorne and Akhil Nigam, had one goal in mind: Support entrepreneurs to help jumpstart the global economy. With companies like ThinxHer Campus, and Ministry of Supply and others amongst their alumni, it’s clear they’ve not only accomplished their goal, but they’ve given a voice to many local entrepreneurs looking to take their product, service, or platform to the next level.

I recently connected with Paige Friedlander, the Talent Manager from MassChallenge in Boston, to talk about the opportunities they have to offer for students at this year’s Spring Internship Fair

Paige: ” MassChallenge is a non-profit that supports early-stage start-ups. We do that in a few different ways. The support we’re best known for is our Accelerator. We have seven programs throughout the world where we offer, through a competition model, early-stage start-up access to office space, mentorships, and course-type materials, so different classes, including different information like finances or legal terminology that is important to know once you grow your business.

What’s really exciting about MassChallenge is that, at the end of each of our Accelerator programs, we offer cash prizes for the start-ups but we don’t seek any equity. We’re really focused on building a strong community around our entrepreneurs to see where they can take their companies next.”

MassChallenge Logo

In terms of opportunities for students, what kind of roles do interns play?

“Interns play a huge role throughout the Summer at MassChallenge. There are so many opportunities for interns to own different parts of the Accelerator, whether that’s communicating with speakers or supporting the start-up directly to make sure they’re getting the most out of MassChallenge. This includes a lot of networking opportunities.

A lot of our students are interested in learning more about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, what the potential opportunities are to either work at a start-up or to create a start-up themselves. There’s lots of exposure to A) what MassChallenge does to support start-ups and B) what kind of work start-ups are doing and what kind of support they’re looking for themselves.”

Start-ups are known for their flat structure and fast-paced assignments. What is the culture at MassChallenge like?

We very much run like a start-up. We are a fast-paced company trying to accomplish a lot while still making the resources as we go along. But, overall, we’re very collaborative — which I think is one of the best things about MassChallenge.

We have an open floor plan for our start-ups and the same floor plan for our staff. So our CEO and our other executives all sit on the floor together with the interns and MassChallenge staff, and the start-ups as well. Inherently there’s just the opportunity to connect more and, again, there are different projects where we might need input from start-ups, so we have people reaching out to collaborate with them.

That’s one of the greatest things about working here — it’s that you always get to find new sources and projects to work with others while also finding different ways to activate your own skills and knowledge within the opportunities you hear about within the office.

There comes a lot of autonomy with a small, lean team. There’s definitely a lot of responsibility that everybody gets to own. One of our guiding principles is own it and that’s something we live by when working with our interns as well as our overall staff. We really do appreciate that interns own what they’re doing with their Summers so that they feel like they have something tangible that they contributed to and created.

It also gives us the opportunity to, again, have that start-up mentality where we’re using the best resources and skills from everyone that works with us.”

MassChallenge Office

What do you look for in an ideal candidate?

I think when you hear start up accelerator or start-up in general, a lot of people assume you need to have a Business or an Econ major to be accepted as an intern and that’s not the case. MassChallenge is mission-driven so, when we’re looking for potential applicants, we’re looking for something beyond a student’s major or where they’re coming from.

We’re looking for interns who are willing to support ideas and are eager of finding their own way to do that. Whether it’s a Business major trying to understand the make-up of MassChallenge or a start-up, or if it’s a student interested in marketing generally trying to understand how small companies and start-ups handle PR, we really have a variety of opportunities and experiences for students of every background to explore. The most successful interns are the ones willing to roll up their sleeves and take ownership of some of the work we do while also supporting some of the other projects and events we do at MassChallenge.”

What are some of the logistics of your internships?

“The Summer Intern Program will start on Wendesday, June 5th and will have two potential end dates of Friday August 16th or 23rd In terms of logistics, we focus on having structured onboarding so students feel really comfortable knowing what MassChallenge does in their first few days and then they can connect with their managers to learn more about what their role specifically is and how they contribute to the overall mission.

There will be different professional development opportunities for interns throughout the Summer. We review things like how to network, edit your resume after the Summer, and how to pitch an idea.

In 2019 we added a policy where we pay our interns. If you’ve heard about MassChallenge internships in the past, they were all volunteer-based positions but now we’ll be paying students minimum wage, which is a big step for us as a non-profit. We’re really excited that we can broaden our program and that we’re able to include even more potential candidates for those looking to join us this Summer.”

Do you have any last words of advice for students interested in working with MassChallenge?

“I touched on autonomy and I think that’s really important in the work we do at MassChallenge. We include our values on every offer letter and description we put together because we believe that that’s a really great way to understand our mission and to see if our goals line up with yours.

There will be a lot of students who know what start-ups are or have been involved with them in the past and want to dive even further and there will be some people who think it’s an interesting opportunity and just want to learn more — and we accept those equally.  

Again, there’s access to start-ups. That’s an opportunity to further your knowledge and understanding and network or to start it.”

 

Check out the positions MassChallenge is recruiting for!

By Anders Croft
Anders Croft Marketing Communications Specialist Anders Croft