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MassChallenge, the Boston-based nonprofit startup accelerator program that has given millions of dollars in grants to promising young companies since 2010, is in the market for a new chief executive.

The organization was set to announce early Thursday that founder and chief executive John Harthorne is stepping down to form a for-profit venture designed to help MassChallenge participants grow after they complete the program.

“As we look to the future of MassChallenge, we are constantly pursuing new ways to expand our support for high-impact, high-potential entrepreneurs,” Harthorne said in a statement, adding that he plans to stay with the organization until after it names his successor.

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MassChallenge didn’t release any additional information about the new project or its specific aims. The organization said Harthorne was not available for an interview, but he said in an e-mail that this is “the right time to pursue strategic developments that will position us even more effectively for long-term success and sustainable growth.”

As MassChallenge has grown, Harthorne has become an important face of the ascendant class of tech and startup executives who are becoming prominent voices of the tech community. He said the company has not yet decided where the new venture will be located.

Diane Hessan , a MassChallenge board member, said the organization hopes to hire a new chief executive who is already familiar with the Boston area’s startup community.

“We’ve got this thriving ecosystem with lots of people building companies, or mentoring people who are building companies,” said Hessan, chairwoman of marketing firm C Space. In many ways, MassChallenge is at the center of that.”

Hessan said MassChallenge won’t hire a search firm. Instead, the group will at least partially rely on its board members’ extensive networks. The search will be led by Leonard Schlesinger, the former Babson College president. Other board members include Desh Desphande, Gail Goodman, and Greg Shell.

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“We’re going to start reaching out to some of the people we think will be really great for the job,” Hessan said.

MassChallenge has its flagship incubator on Drydock Avenue in South Boston, where it brings in 128 startups each year to compete for funding while using the organization’s facilities and business network to grow their firms.

In recent years, MassChallenge has expanded its horizons, opening similar programs in Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, Texas, Rhode Island, and the United Kingdom. MassChallenge has also branched into industry-specific ventures, with a health IT-oriented incubator in the Fenway and a program at MassChallenge headquarters for startups that focus on technology for financial services that’s expected to launch in early 2019. A total of 400 companies go through its programs every year, the organization said. Nearly 90 people work for the nonprofit.

According to MassChallenge, alumni companies have created more than 100,000 jobs since 2010. Companies that have come through the program include Ginkgo Bioworks, Localytics, and Flywire.


Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com. Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.