(Image from Boston.com)
(Image from Boston.com)

Although MassChallenge‘s transition from Fan Pier to Drydock Avenue is expected to be completed later this spring/early this summer, the world’s largest startup accelerator program is already making some big moves.

MassChallenge and Lightspeed MFG

MassChallenge is expanding its partnership with Lightspeed MFG, a Haverhill-based electronics manufacturing, prototyping, and repair company.

Last year, Lightspeed donated some manufacturing equipment, including 3D  printers, software, and computer equipment, to MassChallenge.

When I asked why his company decided to donate the equipment to the accelerator, Lightspeed founder Rich Breault explained, “We came in to MassChallenge and thought it was great, but I asked them, ‘What do you guys do for hardware?’ They didn’t even have a screwdriver in the place.”

This week, Lightspeed and MassChallenge have revealed that they are going to be working more closely together in the future.

John Harthorne, co-founder of MassChallenge, said of the partnership, “Lightspeed has already been hugely valuable, offering services to our hardware companies that they can’t find anywhere.”

Harthorne also said that Breault connected MassChallenge startups with prototyping, manufacturing, and engineering experts. “The companies raved about the mentors,” he added.

Through the new partnership, Lightspeed is going to contribute more manufacturing equipment and mentorship to MassChallenge. Lightspeed will also have its own space in the building that will house MassChallenge.

Harthorne commented that Lightspeed will also be sharing access to their headquarters in Haverhill and will continue to help MassChallenge startups build “mindblowing prototypes.”

Breault said, “We’re going to invest several hundred thousand dollars of equipment to create a one-stop-shop to build prototypes and also give them access to our supply chain.”

“We can help the hardware companies transition as they grow, we want to teach them about design for manufacturing,” he added.

As for Lightspeed’s motivation for setting up shop with MassChallenge in the Innovation District, Breault said, “I think we can bring prototype development and low level manufacturing back to the inner city.”

Microsoft/Boston New Urban Mechanics Civic Innovation Prize

Additionally, MassChallenge recently announced a new “Sidecar Prize,” one of the accelerator’s $50,000 funding awards, that will be awarded for excellence in civic innovation.

Longtime MassChallenge partner and founding sponsor Microsoft is joining forces with the City of Boston (particularly its office of New Urban Mechanics), as backers of the civic innovation award.

Harthorne said that Microsoft initially proposed the Sidecar Prize for civic innovation, and the mayor’s staff got excited and wanted to take part.

Cathy Wissink, the director of technology community engagement said that Microsoft’s Innovation & Policy Center New England “believes the MassChallenge program is an ideal incubator for new tools and forums that will foster healthier civic discourse, stronger communities, and better individual opportunities.”

“I think we’ve reached a tipping point around innovation in civic technology,” Wissink added. “There’s a community thirst to organize around solving problems on behalf of a city, state, or country, and technologists, who are always looking to impact the world on a broader scale, see an opportunity to address challenges and provide solutions in paradigm-shifting ways.”

For Microsoft, the Sidecar Prize is the perfect opportunity to collaborate with MassChallenge and the City of Boston to innovate and to create something new.

“There is a huge opportunity in civic innovation,” Harthorne added. “I don’t think that tech is the first to enter that space, but it’s so important for our society.”

“I don’t think that we’ve explored the depth of possiblity for something like this which is so important,” he said.

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