MassChallenge to open ‘start-up friendly’ accelerator in Jerusalem

No-strings-attached tech mentoring program aims to nurture great ideas in the diverse environment of Israel’s capital

Israeli tech executives and government officials inaugurate the new MassChallenge program in Jerusalem, January 25, 2016 (Hanan Bar-Assulin)
Israeli tech executives and government officials inaugurate the new MassChallenge program in Jerusalem, January 25, 2016 (Hanan Bar-Assulin)

Over the past several years, Tel Aviv and its environs have welcomed several of the world’s top accelerators, which have opened branches local branches to take advantage of the city’s start-up ecosystem. But with the arrival in Israel of MassChallenge, Jerusalem is now getting its own world-class accelerator – probably the world’s best, according to founder and CEO John Harthorne.

“’Best’ is a very fungible term, and there are a lot of ways to look at it,” Harthorne acknowledged on the eve of the official opening of MassChallenge’s Jerusalem branch. “To me, ‘best’ for a start-up means just that – the best mentorship, the best connections, and the best conditions. Those are three things we offer start-ups, and the results of our program over the past six years prove that we’re the best. We’re certainly the most start-up friendly.”

Based in Boston, MassChallenge is a private nonprofit organization that exists, said Harthorne, to help start-ups achieve success and have a positive impact on humanity, especially in areas like cleantech, life sciences, and other areas that help improve the human condition. Already operating for six years in Massachusetts and with a branch in London, MassChallenge will now bring its unique twist on start-up development to Jerusalem.

Key partners for the MassChallenge Israel accelerator include the Israel Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, the Jerusalem Development Authority, the city of Jerusalem, the Israel Economy Ministry, The Kraft Group, Bank Hapoalim, CJP of Greater Boston, EMC, Liberty Mutual, Herzog Fox Ne’eman, and Yigal Arnon & Co. Applications for the program (set to run July 3-October 27) are being accepted through March 31.

In MassChallenge, entrepreneurs receive mentorship, office space, education, access to a vast network and other resources during four months of acceleration. At the end, top performers receive cash prizes. In the Israel program, said local MassChallenge director Israel Ganot, forty start-ups will contend in the first round of the program for a million shekels in prize money, after a panel of judges rates them at the end of the program for their technology, presentation, business plan, and other factors.

John Harthorne (Courtesy)
John Harthorne (Courtesy)

The money – as well as the training, mentorship, and connections a start-up builds up over the course of the program – comes without strings.

“We don’t take equity, or retain any other interest in program participants,” said Harthorne. “The only thing we require from a start-up is a $99 application fee, and that’s just to prevent multiple applications in a cycle for the limited spaces in the program. More often than not we waive that, too. Like I said – we’re start-up friendly.”

“Last year we had 2,275 applications for our programs in Boston and London, and we accepted 218 for both,” said Harthorne.

During the program’s six years, MassChallenge has graduated 835 companies from all over the world. Graduates have raised over a billion dollars in funding and generated half a billion in revenues – and have been responsible for creating some 6,000 jobs. “Those are numbers we are very proud of, and which stand up very well to other big accelerators – like the ones in Tel Aviv,” he added.

Israel has long been on MassChallenge’s radar; dozens of Israeli early-stage start-ups have participated in the program over the years.

“It was our goal from MassChallenge’s earliest days to open an accelerator in Israel and today it becomes a reality,” said Harthorne. “The Jerusalem accelerator will support startups from across Israel and across the globe – and will bring together the best mentors, leaders, and resources of the Israeli innovation ecosystem, all to support the success of our start-ups.”

Being located in Jerusalem will help MassChallenge do what it does best – reach out to companies from all sectors and backgrounds, emphasizing inclusion as a core value.

“We plan to recruit companies from all sectors, including Haredim, Arab, Bedouin, female-run – the more diversity, the better,” said Ganot. “Israel has so much to offer high impact start-ups – a multibillion dollar tech ecosystem, hundreds of multinational corporations, abundant partnership opportunities and deep technical expertise across sectors such as cybersecurity, IoT, fintech, food, water, and agrotech, medical devices, eHealth, neurosciences and so much more. Our program brings all of these elements together in the city of Jerusalem, which is emerging as a hub for startups and an ideal environment for their growth.”

Besides the fact that Jerusalem has been named the number one emerging global tech hub by Time ​and Entrepreneur magazines, the large numbers of members of those populations in Jerusalem was another thing that attracted MassChallenge to the city, said Harthorne. “We are super-proud to be supporters of Israel. We love entrepreneurs, no matter who they are and where they come from. I realize that the region has its problems, but I am a big believer in the power of tech to help promote peace and a better life for everyone. If there is any place to bring that idea to life, it’s in Jerusalem.”

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