Boston isn’t big enough to contain MassChallenge’s ambitions.
The nonprofit startup accelerator is shifting into a higher gear as it prepares for a national expansion, with a goal of having 12 hubs by the end of 2020.
MassChallenge already has international outposts in Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. These are run as separate nonprofits with shared goals. The organization is now developing a strategy for opening in other US cities under the same corporate umbrella as the Boston mother ship.
Scott Bailey (right) will lead this North American growth spurt. Until recently, Bailey ran the organization’s flagship incubator space in South Boston, and coordinated work at the Pulse accelerator space for digital health in the Fenway and a satellite office in Newton.
MassChallenge recently hired Kiki Mills Johnston to take Bailey’s place as its local managing director. She joins MassChallenge from Mission Capital, an Austin-based group that helps nonprofits. But she’s already a familiar face in local tech circles because of her work with the Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange.
Mills Johnston left this state in 2010, when MassChallenge was just in its infancy. Now, she’s preparing to usher in a new class of startups for the 2017 program.
Bailey, meanwhile, says he’ll consider smaller cities and established high-tech centers for new locations. He hopes to unveil the next spot later this year. He also will consider other industry-specific ventures in the Boston area like Pulse. They could be aimed at manufacturing firms or consumer-oriented startups. “We want to double down in Boston,” he says.
Unlike many similar accelerators, MassChallenge doesn’t take equity stakes in its startups. Instead, the nonprofit primarily relies on corporate donors — the likes of General Electric, Fidelity Investments, and IBM — to further its mission.
“We’re not getting out the term sheet,” Bailey says. “We’re not trying to tell them something. We want to do whatever is aligned to their interest, their strategy and their growth.” — JON CHESTO
Jane’s Swift’s March madness
Jane Swift finds herself at another big crossroads.
The former Massachusetts politician is leaving Middlebury Interactive Languages, a provider of digital learning courses, this month after leading it as CEO almost since its inception nearly six years ago. The 70-person startup had been jointly owned by Middlebury College and education software firm K12 Inc., but K12 bought Middlebury’s 40-percent stake recently for $9 million.
“I’m much more of an entrepreneurial CEO of a fast-growing company than a cog in a much larger company,” Swift says. “Five-and-a-half years is a long time in this day and age to do one thing, so this was a natural time for me to find a new . . . challenge.”
But what will that be? Swift’s not sure yet, though it will probably be education-related. While she is already having conversations about possible opportunities, she also relishes the opportunity to focus more on her family. They live near Burlington, Vt., now — MIL is in Middlebury, Vt. — but Swift says she’s open to moving again for the right opportunity.
What about a return to politics? “There are a small number of things that are totally on the ‘not happening list’ and that would be on the ‘not happening list,’ ” Swift says.
At least Swift’s transition is starting in the middle of March Madness. “I’m a huge college basketball fan,” Swift says. “So timing this with the tournament was fairly brilliant on my part.” — JON CHESTO
Immigration law expertise, for $75
Even before Donald Trump’s election, the City of Somerville’s free legal clinics for immigrants were heavily attended.
Since he became president and began cracking down on undocumented people, attendance has skyrocketed as foreign-born residents scramble to get their immigration paperwork in order.
“Demand has been roughly four to five times what we can handle each week,” and finding volunteers to staff the clinics is also a challenge, says spokeswoman Denise Taylor.
So the sanctuary city has come up with a novel solution: in partnership with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, it’s offering all Somervillians a 40-hour class in immigration law for the discounted rate of $75 instead of the usual $225.
Graduates of the class will be qualified to apply for US Department of Justice accreditation to help immigrants fill out paperwork, such as applications for visas, green cards, and citizenship, and they’ll be asked to volunteer for at least 50 hours at a Somerville immigration clinic this year.
Among the organizations helping organize the clinics are the Somerville Family Learning Collaborative, the Welcome Project, Cambridge Health Alliance, Community Action Agency of Somerville, Harvard Law School, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, and Immigrant Service Providers Group. — SACHA PFEIFFER
A battery that doesn’t catch fire
Michael Zimmerman is hoping to light a fire under the electronics industry by building rechargeable batteries that won’t burn.
Zimmerman, a professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts University, is founder of Ionic Materials Inc., a Woburn company that’s developing a new kind of battery, suitable for powering laptops, smartphones, or electric cars. The powerful but relatively fragile lithium-ion batteries we presently use contain a flammable liquid that carries electrically-charged ions between the batteries’ electrodes. Zimmerman’s found a way to do the same thing with a solid polymer — a plastic material that can’t leak and won’t burn.
The Springfield native spent 14 years as a researcher at the now-defunct Bell Labs in North Andover, becoming an expert in making and molding polymers. In 2002, he launched Quantum Leap Packaging, which made polymer packages for silicon microchips. He has continued to develop polymer products at his current company, iQLP of Woburn.
Ionic Materials is a side gig, but one with immense potential. Zimmerman says they should deliver twice the capacity of today’s batteries, while being far more stable and rugged. He says that the batteries should be ready for the market in two or three years, and that the world’s leading battery makers are interested in licensing the technology. — HIAWATHA BRAYCan’t keep a secret? Tell us. E-mail Bold Types at email@example.com.