MassChallenge gets first new CEO in its 9-year history

Siobhan Dullea is the new chief executive of MassChallenge.
Siobhan Dullea is the new chief executive of MassChallenge. (MassChallenge)

MassChallenge, the Boston-based nonprofit that offers grants and training to promising startups, is getting a new chief executive for the first time in its nine-year history.

Siobhan Dullea will take the reins from John Harthorne, the founder of MassChallenge, who is departing to work on a for-profit project to help companies that have been through the organization’s startup programs.

Dullea has been chief operating officer of MassChallenge since 2016, overseeing its eight accelerator programs around the world. MassChallenge’s locations outside Boston are Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, Texas, Rhode Island, and the United Kingdom.

Before joining MassChallenge, Dullea was an executive with the Grommet, an e-commerce site for offbeat inventions and new products, and she helped found the Boston marketing firm C Space.


“I know how hard it is to build a business,” Dullea said in an interview Tuesday. “As I dug in . . . over the last three years, I realized that MassChallenge had everything I wanted when I was starting a business.”

She said she wants to make sure that people working in different programs supported by MassChallenge are able to easily share their ideas and expertise.

MassChallenge has expanded aggressively since its inception as a program to shepherd Boston-area startups through their turbulent early stages. A total of 400 companies go through its programs every year, including 128 in its signature Boston program, based at its Drydock Avenue headquarters in South Boston.

Participants compete as they build their businesses, and the winners of the programs receive grant money to help them grow. The nonprofit has also built two industry-specific accelerator programs in Boston, for health IT and financial technology.

Dullea said she is looking for new ways to help innovative small businesses take off. While industrywide statistics show the majority of startups fail, MassChallenge has seen better results — though that’s in part because organizers select participants they believe have solid ideas.


Of the nearly 2,000 startups that have gone through MassChallenge programs, 87 percent are still active or have been acquired, the organization says.

“We’re doing something that helps break those odds, and I want to continue to do that. That’s not just a Boston thing. That’s an around-the-world thing,” she said.

Harthorne will continue to have a significant role at MassChallenge. Though the organization has not revealed details of his for-profit project, he remains a member of the MassChallenge board of directors, and Dullea expects him to continue to be involved.

“He’s going to continue to be a great adviser to me,” she said. “This is his baby, so he’s always going to be part of the community.”

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.