MassChallenge, the “global network of zero-equity startup accelerators,” has announced that it has expanded its program to Rhode Island.

In this iteration of MassChallenge, an estimated 20 early-stage startups will be accepted to participate.

“The whole idea behind it is to help entrepreneurs,” said Andrew Mallon, Rhode Island program director. “We’re really just interested in making sure the entrepreneurs grow and creates value.”

“The program is a lot about achieving those goals.”

The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and FM Global were among MassChallenge Rhode Island’s founding partners, with Rhode Island Foundation, Delta Dental and Verizon Foundation providing additional support.

The growth of the program comes after MassChallenge’s most recent recent foray into the Ocean State in 2016, for its “startup bootcamp” program, Bridge to MassChallenge. That event was a “limited testing of the market,” Mallon said.

Andrew Mallon, MassChallenge Rhode Island program director. Courtesy photo.

This time around, this “fully fledged initiative” will use mentors who considers applicants via an initial round of judging. These mentors examine everything from the startup’s team, value proposition, technology and more. “Every startup that applies to the program benefits from a really good analysis,” Mallon said.

Later, accepted participants, or “finalists,” are announced. Those startups participate in MC RI’s four-month accelerator program, which runs from April to August 2018. Participants can choose their mentors, with whom they set their goals for their accelerator process.

“The program is a lot about achieving those goals,” Mallon added.

Upon completing the accelerator, there’s an additional round of judging, where top startups win shares of a $50,000 prize. That funding allows the winners to “have extra bandwidth after the competition to help them deliver their process,” Mallon said.

In addition to mentorship and potential prizes, startups will have access to MassChallenge’s Boston network and resources.

MassChallenge describes itself as “industry agnostic,” meaning startups of all stripes are encouraged to apply. “The only main thing is, you have to be involved in the program, which is in Rhode Island, so you would have to be here,” Mallon said. “If people are wondering they’re a right fit, they can look at the companies who have come through the program [previously].”

Additionally, companies also must have less than $500,000 in equity-based funding and less than $1 million in revenue within the past year to be considered.

Mallon himself went through the organization’s flagship accelerator. “People who have done MassChallenge, like myself, we develop a love for the program … and know how effective it can be,” he said.

He added that he’s excited to bring that level of impact to Rhode Island. While there’s a lot going on in its startup scene, it’s oftentimes spread out across the state, and the ecosystem has incomplete bits that, once added, could make the whole thing stronger.

That’s where MC RI comes in, to “complete that pipeline of commercialization,” Mallon said. “That final piece of taking the startups and getting them in commercial position is missing there.”

There’s also the hope that MC RI will encourage the spirit of the entrepreneurial community to greater coalesce, in addition to physically uniting its players. “Bringing all the entrepreneurs and startups together, and creating a real community, a place for people to be a part of family, if you like, is important thing that Rhode Island needs,” Mallon continued. “It’s something that’s definitely lacking, and that you really need. Being an entrepreneur in a startup environment is extremely difficult, and you need support; people support, emotional support, advice support, [a] network.”

Applications for the program are now open.

Editor’s Note: Rhode Island Inno readers receive a 25 percent application discount. Enter MCRIInno25 when applying. (Fees are $49 by the March 1 Early Bird deadline, and $99 by March 28.)