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MassChallenge adding Israel contest

MassChallenge Inc., a Boston nonprofit that runs an annual contest for business start-ups, is taking its competition to Israel with the help of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and the Hopkinton data storage company EMC Corp., both of which have longstanding ties to that country.

The contest will be dubbed MassChallenge Israel and will formally launch in March in Tel Aviv, which already has an active community of technology start-ups. MassChallenge aims to spur the growth of small businesses by offering mentorship, free office space, and cash prizes to winning entrants.

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“It’s always been our intention to make a huge global impact,” said John Harthorne, chief executive of MassChallenge. With already strong business connections between Massachusetts and Israel, he said, it made sense to make that country the first place for MassChallenge to expand. It began exploring the idea of taking the contest there last year with the help of the New England-Israel Business Council.

Harthorne expects that several participants in the Israeli program will come to Boston later this year to compete in the final round of the MassChallenge contest, which began accepting applications on Wednesday for its 2013 program.

The contest typically accepts about 125 entrants and winners split cash prizes that total more than $1 million.

The move to Israel continues a long history of economic cooperation and business connections between that country and Massachusetts companies such as EMC, which has hundreds of employees and an innovation center there, and business people such as Kraft, who has invested in Israeli businesses and been instrumental in forging political ties between the two regions.

“My family has a long history of investment in the economies of both Massachusetts and Israel,” said Kraft, in a statement. “Massachusetts and Israel are both highly innovative and they have many common interests. We believe this expansion of MassChallenge will have a lasting impact on both regions.”

MassChallenge is also collaborating with groups in Colombia, Mexico, and Russia to support the growth of start-ups in those countries.

Michael B. Farrell can be reached at michael.farrell@globe.com.
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