Oct 20, 2023 - Business

Scoop: Newest Boston accelerator helps humanity reach new heights

Illustration of robot hand reaching out to human hand

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

MassChallenge's latest startup accelerator is helping entrepreneurs build technology that pushes the limits of human performance, the organization tells Axios exclusively.

Driving the news: Participating companies are using AI, exoskeletons, wearable devices and other technology to build products they hope will help athletes, astronauts, soldiers and others take their skills to the next level.

  • 15 later-stage startups joined the six-week program earlier this month, the nonprofit's CEO Cait Brumme tells Axios.

Why it matters: While business leaders worry tech hubs in lower-cost states are catching up to Greater Boston, they say the region can set itself apart by supporting startups in emerging fields — in this case, entrepreneurs trying to take human performance to new extremes.

What they're saying: "The idea of how humans can extend our own individual lifespans, health and wellbeing is a topic that [people] have been curious about for eons," Brumme says.

Zoom in: Pison, a Boston tech startup developing smartwatches and wearables with biosensors that detect a user's neurological changes, joined the cohort to take the devices to market.

  • Co-founder Dexter Ang says he initially saw the product as a way to help people detect symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease, but he's now exploring other applications like helping pro football players measure the impact of a head injury in real time.
  • After years of honing the products, Pison will launch its first wearable next year – leveraging some of the feedback it's received during the accelerator, Ang says.

The big picture: Startups nationwide have seen venture capital investment dry up in 2023. Massachusetts has so far seen funding drop to 2020 levels, according to PitchBook data.

  • But financing of "tough tech," the kind of products in this new accelerator, was a bright spot, per a new report by Cambridge-based venture capital firm The Engine.

Of note: MassChallenge is among a handful of programs across the country supporting this kind of technology, joining MIT, Harvard and UC Berkeley.

Details: The accelerator offers no equity but hosts competitions where participants will compete for cash prizes.

  • Founders will network with investors like Dallas billionaire Lyda Hill and organizations like the Air Force Research Laboratory to get feedback on their prototypes, identify their core customers and strategize next steps.
  • The program culminates with a Demo Day next month in Texas.
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