Posts Tagged 'Catalyst Program'

May 2, 2013

Startup Series: wind2share

I'm amazed by the people who work at the startups that work with Catalyst. If you could somehow bottle the enthusiasm, creativity and passion that entrepreneurs and startup teams have on a daily basis, you'd have an energy drink worth billions of dollars. It's impossible to describe in a blog, but because I'm surrounded by people with those characteristics, I'd be doing the blog audience a disservice if I didn't try to express what I've experienced first-hand. Instead of trying to generalize, a better approach would be to give you an example of what I'm talking about, and for that, I just need to turn the spotlight on wind2share.

I first met the wind2share team at TechCrunch SF in the fall of 2012, and I was immediately taken aback by their energy and the genuine kindness they exuded as people. At the time, the team had been slowly making the transition of having employees work in three different cities on two different continents, but it was clear that they shared a unified willingness to work hard and create a meaningful solution for their clients. As my boy Iggy Pop said, they had a "lust for life" that is as magnetic as it is uncommon. And if that weren't enough, their vision for wind2share is innovative and intriguing:

wind2share is a social business network specially designed for people to make referrals to leading institutions and companies and receive cash rewards based on successful referrals. Businesses seeking to enter new markets can lean on hundreds of ambassadors worldwide to offer their services to new audiences, and expand their client base in new markets.

Since I met them, they've made incremental improvements in their user experience, incorporating Facebook and Google+ accounts to streamline signups and launching a new site design to clearly and succinctly convey the business model and the platform's features.

After a successful pilot run in 2012 which generated more than $1.7 million in revenue, wind2share is strategically ramping up their marketing efforts to continue the viral growth of their disruptive referral model. Given how easy they make the process of connecting and interacting with businesses and top-level professionals around thew world, it's not a surprise that the startup has been so successful, and I have no doubt that their success will continue.

The beauty of the network wind2share created is the diversity of its functionality. Your social network trusts you, and your referrals are valuable, so wind2share provides a medium for businesses to reward you when you recommend them. Beyond that use-case, if you're an entrepreneur or you have an idea, you can connect with investors who share your interest and may be of some help. The way I think of it is that it's a social community with a business purpose. Members are provided with all the information, tools and resources they need to "Make a Wealth of Referrals."

Companies like wind2share are a glowing successes in our Catalyst. Our team has solved numerous infrastructure challenges for them, and we've had the opportunity to make strategic introductions to investors, business leads and potential business partners as the company has grown and matured. Seeing the work pay off in such a positive way with wind2share is proof positive of the value Catalyst provides startups.

To learn more about wind2share or to sign up, head over to wind2share.com. If you'd like to meet the fantastic team of brilliant folks behind the platform, reach out to me directly and I'll happily start the conversation for you.

-@JoshuaKrammes

March 5, 2013

Startup Series: Kickback Tickets

The very first client I recruited to Catalyst when I joined the CommDev team about a year ago happens to be one of Catalyst's most interesting customer success stories ... and I'm not just saying that because it was the first partner I signed on. Kickback Tickets — an online ticketing platform that utilized crowdfunding — has simplified the process of creating and funding amazing events, and as a result, they've made life a lot easier for the startup, developer and networking organizations that fuel Catalsyt.

Anyone who's organized events knows that it often involves a financial risk because it's hard to know whether the event will be well-enough attended to cover the costs of putting on the event. With Kickback Tickets, an event is listed an funded ahead of time, and when it reaches its "Tipping Point" goal of tickets ordered, it's completely funded, the early supporters are charged, and the ticket sales continue.

The process is simple:

Kickback Tickets

Event updates, guest registrations and QR-coded tickets are provided to attendees to make check-in seamless, so the hosts of each event don't have hassle with those details. Kickback's revenue comes from a small fee on each ticket for each successfully funded event, and they've got a ton of momentum. After signing on with Catalyst in March 2012, Kickback went live with an open beta in November 2012, and they launched their out-of-beta site in February 2013. They've successfully funded more than 20 events, and new events are added daily.

Kickback Tickets

When I met the Kickback founders Jonathan Perkins and Julian Balderas, I was attending SF Beta (my first official event as a SLayer). At the time, Jonathan and Julian were a couple of bankers with an innovative idea to help organizations alleviate the financial risk of planning and putting on events by enlisting community support. I told them about my experience as the COO of a small non-profit startup up called Slavery Footprint (also a Catalyst partner), and I guess they could relate to the challenges SoftLayer helped us overcome because they were excited to join.

In their own words, Jonathan and Julian explain that their partnership with Softlayer and the Catalyst program has been extremely valuable:

SoftLayer provides a rock-solid technical foundation and allows us to focus more resources on business development. On the technical side, what Softlayer offers is impressive — super fast speeds and an intricate level of control over the hardware. On the personal side, the mentorship and networking benefits of the program have been very helpful. We've always found the Catalyst team to be available to chat about any questions we had, ranging from development to biz dev to fundraising.

As they continue to expand their platform, it's going to be exciting to watch Kickback become a true force in the events space. Organize your next event with Kickback and make sure it's a success.

Oh, and if you want to speak to Jonathan and Julian, just reach out to me and I'll happily make the introduction.

-@JoshuaKrammes

February 11, 2013

Startup Series: Planwise

Every startup dreams about entering an unowned, wide-open market ... and subsequently dominating it. About a year ago, I met a couple of Aussies — Vincent and Niall — who saw a gaping hole in the world of personal finance and seized the opportunity to meet the unspoken needs of a huge demographic: People who want to be in control of their money but hate the complexity of planning and budgeting. They built Planwise — a forward-looking financial decision-making tool that shows you your future financial goals in the context of each other and your daily financial commitments.

Planwise

If you look at the way people engage with their finances on a daily basis, you might think that we don't really care about our money. Unless we're about to run out of it, we want to do something with it, or it constrains us from doing something we want to do, we don't spend much time managing our finances. Most of the online tools that dominate the finance space are enterprise-centric solutions that require sign-ups and API calls to categorize your historical spend. Those tools confirm that you spend too much each month on coffee and beer (in case you didn't already know), but Planwise takes a different approach — one that focuses on the future.

Planwise is a tool that answers potentially complex financial questions quickly and clearly. "If I make one additional principal payment on my mortgage every year, what will my outstanding balance be in five years?" "How would would my long-term savings be affected if I moved to a nicer (and more expensive) apartment?" "How much money should I set aside every month if I want to travel to Europe next summer?" You shouldn't have to dig up your old accounting textbooks or call a CPA to get a grasp on your financial future:

One of the most significant differentiators for Planwise is that you can use the tool without signing up and without any identifiable information. You just launch Planwise, add relevant numbers, and immediately see the financial impact of scenarios like paying off debt, losing your job, or changing your expenses significantly. If you find Planwise useful and you want to keep your information in the system (so you don't have to enter it again), you can create an account to save your data by just providing your email address.

Planwise has been a SoftLayer customer since around August of last year, and I've gotten to work with them quite a bit via the Catalyst program. They built a remarkable hybrid infrastructure on SoftLayer's platform where they leverage dedicated hardware, cloud instances and cutting-edge DB deployments to scale their environment up and down as their usage demands. I'd also be remiss if I didn't give them a shout-out for evangelizing Catalyst to bring some other outstanding startups onboard. You've met one of those referred companies already (Bright Funds), and you'll probably hear about a few more soon.

Go make some plans with Planwise.

-@JoshuaKrammes

January 15, 2013

Startup Series: Moqups

Every member on the Catalyst team is given one simple goal: Find the most innovative and creative startups on the planet and get them on the SoftLayer network. We meet entrepreneurs at conferences and events around the world, we team up with the most influential startup accelerators and incubators, and we hunt for businesses who are making waves online. With the momentum Catalyst built in 2012, our message has started spreading exponentially faster than what the community development team could be doing on our own, and now it seems like we've earned a few evangelists in the startup community. We have those evangelists to thank for bringing Moqups to our door.

In a Hacker News thread, a user posted about needing hosting for a server/startup, and a recommendation for the Catalyst program was one of the top-rated results. The founders of Moqups saw that recommendation, researched SoftLayer's hosting platform and submitted an application to become a Catalyst partner. As soon as we saw the unbelievable HTML5 app the Moqups team created to streamline and simplify the process of creating wireframes and mockups for website and application design, we knew they were a perfect fit to join the program.

If you've ever had to create a site prototype or UI mockup, you know how unwieldy the process can be. You want to sketch a layout and present it clearly and cleanly, but there aren't many viable resources between "marker on a whiteboard" and "rendering in Photoshop" to accomplish that goal. That's the problem the Moqups team set out to solve ... Can a web app provide the functionality and flexibility you'd need to fill that gap?

We put their answer to that question to the test. I told Kevin about Moqups and asked him to spend a few minutes wireframing the SoftLayer Blog ... About ten minutes later, he sent me this (Click for the full Moqups version):

SoftLayer Blog Moqup

Obviously, wireframing an existing design is easier than creating a new design from scratch, but Kevin said he was floored by how intuitive the Moqups platform made the process. In fact, the "instructions" for how to use Moqups are actually provided in an example "Quick Introduction to Moqups" project on the home page. That example project allows you to tweak, add and adjust content to understand how the platform works, and because it's all done in HTML5, the user experience is seamless.

Moqups

Put it to the test for yourself: How long will it take you to create a wireframe of your existing website (similar to what Kevin did with the SoftLayer Blog)? You have down-to-the-pixel precision, you can group objects together, Moqups helps you line up or center all of the different pieces of your site. Their extensive library of stencils supplements any custom images you upload, so you can go through the whole process of creating a site mockup without "drawing" anything by hand!

I'm actually surprised that the Moqups team heard about SoftLayer before our community development team heard about them ... In November, I was in Bucharest, Romania, for HowtoWeb, so I was right in their back yard! Central and Eastern European startups are blowing up right now, and Moqups is a perfect example of what we're seeing from that region in EMEA.

Oh, and if you know of a crazy cool startup like Moqups that could use a little hosting help from SoftLayer, tell them about Catalyst!

-@EmilyBlitz

January 8, 2013

Startup Series: Bright Funds

Did you ever see The Beach with Leonardo DiCaprio? You know ... The one with a community of world-shunners that live in a paradisaical community on a beautiful white-sand beach. The people in that community were purists — altruistic types who believed in the possibilities of living a simple life based on community support of the individual and the individual's reciprocal support and dedication to the community. Recently, I walked into Hattery — a co-working space in SF — and found a similarly tight-knit community that immediately reminded me of that movie. Hattery is "off the radar" to a certain extent, and that's largely because the collaborative environment and culture are what drive the incredible group of entrepreneurs who work there. To be allowed in the co-working space, it seems like the prerequisites are endless passion and an ambitious vision, so I shouldn't be surprised that Bright Funds calls it home.

Bright Funds is a business that was created to provide users the ability to easily invest in complete solutions for the causes they care about. After signing on as a Catalyst partner, Bright Fund co-founders Ty Walrod and Rutul Davé invited me to lunch at the Hattery office, and I immediately accepted so I could learn more about what they are up to. Having been involved in the tech startup world for a while now, I knew that I'd be meeting two very special entrepreneurs with big hearts and even BIGGER tech startup street cred.

Rutul and Ty were not content with their user experience (UX) when it came to giving to charities and helping solve some of the world's biggest problems. They noticed that little effort had been invested in providing donors with tools to make the act of giving both enjoyable and highly effective, so they took action. Bright Funds was created to redefine and refocus the experience of "giving to charity" ... Giving shouldn't just involve going through the motions of transferring funds from our bank accounts. They built a new giving platform to be more intuitive, rewarding and enlightening, and they did an unbelievable job.

Think of the last time you had a great user experience: An interaction that was as enjoyable as it was effective. Aesthetics play a big role, and when those aesthetics make doing what you want to do easier and more satisfying, you've got an awesome UX. The best user experiences involve empowering users to make informed and intelligent choices by providing them what they need and getting out of the way. Often, UX is used for site design or application metrics, but Bright Funds took the concept and used it to create an elegant and simple business model:

Bright Funds was designed to create a giving experience with an intuitive flow in mind. Instead of just writing checks or handing over cash to a charity, the experience of giving through Bright Funds is interactive and didactic. You manage your giving like you would a mutual fund portfolio — you decide what percentage of your giving should go to which types of vetted and validated causes, and you get regular performance updates from charity. I want to help save the environment. I want to give clean water to all. I want to empower the underserved. I want to educate the world. You choose which causes you want to prioritize, and Bright Funds channels your giving to the most effective organizations serving the greatest needs in the world today.

Bright Funds

Instead of focusing on individual nonprofits, you support causes and issues that matter most to you. In that sense, Bright Funds is a very unique approach to charitable giving, and it's a powerful force in making a difference. Visit Bright Funds for more information, and get started by building your own 'Impact Portfolio.' If you're curious about what mine looks like, check it out:

Bright Funds Impact Portfolio

What does yours look like?

-@JoshuaKrammes

This is a startup series post about Bright Funds, a SoftLayer Catalyst Program participant.
About Bright Funds:
Bright Funds is a better way to give. Individuals and employees at companies with gift matching programs create personalized giving portfolios and contribute to thoroughly researched funds of highly effective nonprofits, all working to address the greatest challenges of our time. In one platform, Bright Funds brings together the power of research, the reliability of a trusted financial service, and the convenience of a secure, cloud-based platform with centralized contributions, integrated matching, and simple tax reporting.
December 10, 2012

Startup Series: GiveToBenefit

People often ask me why I enjoy working at SoftLayer, and that's a tough question to answer fully. I ALWAYS say that great people and great products (in that order) are some of the biggest reasons, and I explain how refreshing it is to work for a company that operates prioritizes "solving problems" over "selling." I share the SoftLayer "Innovate or Die" motto and talk about how radically the world of hosting is changing, and I get to brag about meeting some of the world's most interesting up-and-coming entrepreneurs and how I have the unique opportunity to help amazing startups grow into Internet powerhouses.

I'm the West Coast community development manager for Catalyst, so I get to tell the SoftLayer story to hundreds of entrepreneurs and startups every month at various meetups, demo days, incubator office hours and conferences. In turn, I get to hear the way those entrepreneurs and startups are changing the world. It's a pretty amazing gig. When I was chatting with a few of my colleagues recently, I realized that I'm in a pretty unique position ... Not everyone gets to hear these stories. I've decided that I owe it to my coworkers, our Catalyst participants and anyone else who will listen to write a semi-regular blog series about some of the cool businesses SoftLayer is helping.

Picking one Catalyst participant to feature for this first blog was a pretty challenging task. With the holidays upon us, one company I'm working closely with jumped out as the perfect candidate to feature in this "season of giving": GiveToBenefit.

GiveToBenefit

GiveToBeneift (or G2B) is a social enterprise based in Philadelphia dedicated to helping non-profits receive high-quality goods from select suppliers through crowd-funding. G2B is unique among the startups in the Catalyst program in that it is a "double bottom line" company: It is designed to generate profit for its business while at the same time creating positive social impact.

Crowd-funding — raising money from the public via online donations — is a relatively new activity, but it has already become a HUGE market. In 2010, more than 38 million people gave $4.5 billion to causes online ... $4.5 BILLION dollars were donated online to fuel ideas and businesses. Chances are, you've heard of companies like Kickstarter and DonorsChoose, so instead of taking time to talk about the crowd-funding process, I can share how GiveToBenefit differs from those other platforms:

Serves Non-Profits Exclusively - GiveToBenefit works exclusively with non-profit companies. They look for non-profits who don't have the financial or human resources to do their own fundraising and who can benefit from the high-quality goods their suppliers provide.

Marketing and Strategy Assistance - GiveToBenefit actively helps the organization market the campaign. The G2B team is ready, willing and able to offer suggestions, answer questions and provide feedback throughout the process, and given the fact that many non-profits lack technology resources, they usually get very involved with each cause.

No Additional Donor Fees - An extremely important note to point out is that GiveToBenefit does not charge donors a fee for their contribution beyond the mandatory fee charged by the credit card processor. More of every the donated dollar goes to its intended cause. Your entire donation goes to the non-profit for a very specific reason. There's no question about whether your donation will go to what you hope for.

Building Connections with High-Quality Suppliers - GiveToBenefit found a way to elevate the role of the supplier of the goods that non-profits receive and use. Brands whose products promise to perform better and last longer than the items the charities have access to are featured. GiveToBenefit derives revenue from its relationships with these suppliers, and G2B uses part of the fee it charges the supplier to fund the marketing of the non-profit's online campaign.

The idea is to go beyond "doing good," to "doing better." I could go on and on about the innovate ways they're "discovering better ways to do good," but the best way to show off their platform would be to send you to the three campaigns they recently launched:

GiveToBenefit Campaigns

Whether you want to contribute to purchasing a Watermark water purification system for the Margaret E. Moul Home for people with neuromuscular disabilities or you want to fill the People's Light & Theatre and Plays & Players Theater with the beautiful sounds of Hailun Pianos, you can contribute and know that your donation is making a difference for some very worthy non-profits.

If you'd like to learn more about GiveToBenefit or if you think one of your favorite non-profits could benefit from a G2B campaign, let me know (jkrammes@softlayer.com), and I'll introduce you to G2B founder and visionary Dan Sossaman.

-@JoshuaKrammes

October 30, 2012

Startup Series: YouNoodle

In the startup world, the resources you have are almost as important as your vision and your ability to execute. That simple idea fueled the creation of Catalyst, and it's a big component of our incredible success. We're taking the complexity (and cost) out of the hosting decision for the coolest startups we meet, and by doing so, those startups have the freedom to focus on their applications. But that's only the beginning.

In addition to providing infrastructure, my team and I also try to introduce Catalyst participants to investors, incubators, accelerators and other startup founders. By building a strong network of experienced peers, entrepreneurs have a HUGE advantage as they're building their businesses. The difficulty in making those introductions is that it's such a labor-intensive process ... Or I guess I should say that it *was* a labor-intensive process. Then we found YouNoodle.

YouNoodle is an online network for entrepreneurs that was founded in 2010 in San Francisco, California. The 18-person startup is built to connect entrepreneurs with people, startups, competitions and groups based on what's relevant to each entrepreneur's mission. What the Catalyst team has been doing in a labor-intensive fashion, YouNoodle has automated and streamlined! We had to meet these folks.

YouNoodle

We heard that YouNoodle was putting together a start-up crawl during one of their immersion programs — they bring international entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley to learn best practices and make connections in the US market — and we jumped at an opportunity to provide the beer and sandwiches at one of the stops. If you've ever worked at a startup before, you know that the way to an entrepreneur's heart is through his/her stomach, so we hoped it would be "love at first bite."

We chatted with the YouNoodle team, and they showed us the recently released 2.0 version of Podium, the SaaS platform they built to manage the selection process for entrepreneurial competitions and challenges from organizations like Start-Up Chile, The Next Web, Intel, NASA and seven out of the top ten universities around the world. Basically, Podium enables the most talented individuals and innovative startups to rise to the top and get the opportunities they deserve.

YouNoodle was an obvious fit for Catalyst, and Catalyst was an obvious fit for YouNoodle. Other Catalyst participants could join the thriving community of entrepreneurs that YouNoodle has built, and YouNoodle could take advantage of the power of SoftLayer's hosting platform. And by helping support YouNoodle, Catalyst gets to indirectly help even more entrepreneurs and startups ... Very "meta!"

Over the past two years, YouNoodle has managed over 400 competitions which have received entries from more than 28,000 entrepreneurs around the world. They're a key player in the acceleration of global entrepreneurship, and they share our vision of breaking down the geographic barriers to innovation. And with the momentum they've got now, it's clear that they're just getting started.

If you have a second, head over to YouNoodle.com to check out the fresh, easy-to-use interface they launched to help users discover, get inspired by and connect with like-minded individuals on a global scale.

-@PaulFord

October 2, 2012

A Catalyst for Success: MODX Cloud

SoftLayer has a passion for social media, online gaming and mobile application developers. We were in "startup mode" just a few years ago, so we know how much work it takes to transform ideas into a commercially viable enterprise, and we want to be the platform on which all of those passionate people build their business. To that end, we set out to find ways we could help the next generation of web-savvy entrepreneurs and digital pioneers.

About a year ago, we kicked off a huge effort to give back to the startup community. We jumped headfirst into the world of startups, incubators, accelerators, angel investors, venture capitalists and private equity firms. This was our new ecosystem. We started to make connections with the likes of TechStars and MassChallenge, and we quickly became a preferred hosting environment for their participants' most promising and ambitious ideas. This ambitious undertaking evolved into our Catalyst Program.

When it came to getting involved, we knew we could give back from an infrastructure perspective. We decided to extend a $1,000/mo hosting credit to each Catalyst company for one full year, and the response was phenomenal. That was just the beginning, though. Beyond the servers, storage and networking, we wanted to be a resource to the entrepreneurs and developers who could learn from our experience, so we committed to mentoring and making ourselves available to answer any and all questions. That's not just lip service ... We pledged access to our entire executive team, and we made engineering resources available for problem-solving technical challenges. We're in a position to broker introductions and provide office space, so we wanted didn't want to pass up that opportunity.

One of the superstars and soon-to-be graduates of Catalyst is MODX, and they have an incredible story. MODX has become leading web content management platform (#4 open source PHP CMS globally) by providing designers, developers, content creators and Unix nerds with all the tools they need to manage, build, protect and scale a web site.

Back in December 2011, the MODX team entered the program as a small company coming out of the open source world, trying to figure out how to monetize and come up with a viable commercial offering. Just over 10 months later, the company has grown to 14+ employees with a new flagship product ready to launch later this month: MODX Cloud. This new cloud-hosting platform, built on SoftLayer's infrastructure, levels the playing field allowing users to scale and reach everyone with just a few clicks of a mouse and not need to worry about IT administration or back-end servers. Everything associated with managing a web site is fully automated with single-click functionality, so designers and small agencies can compete globally.

MODX Cloud

We're proud of what the MODX team has accomplished in such a short period of time, and I would like to think that SoftLayer played a significant role in getting them there. The MODX tag line is "Creative Freedom," and that might be why they were drawn to the Catalyst Program. We want to "liberate" entrepreneurs from distractions and allow them to focus on developing their products – you know, the part of the business that they are most passionate about.

I can't wait to see what comes out of Catalyst next ... We're always looking to recruit innovative, passionate and creative startups who'd love to have SoftLayer as a partner, so if you have a business that fits the bill, let us help!

-@gkdog

May 1, 2012

SoftLayer, Entrepreneurship and the White House

The past two weeks have been HUGE for the SoftLayer community development team and our Catalyst Program. In addition to the typical insanity of crisscrossing the country to attend startup events and scheduled "office hours" in Boulder, San Francisco, Boston and New York City, I was invited to visit a pretty noteworthy address in Washington, D.C.: 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Yes ... SoftLayer was invited to the White House!

I was honored and humbled to be recognized as one of 5 Entrepreneurs in Residence for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As a part of the Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative, I joined the other private sector participants in the Secretary of War Suite on April 26 for an EIR roundtable meeting. I'd describe the meeting as "historic," but given the "history" at the White House, I might have to choose a different word:

SoftLayer at the White House

The USCIS is looking to make it easier for entrepreneurs and innovators to get to the United States to have the opportunity and resources they need to build the next Google or Facebook ... or SoftLayer. It's no coincidence that the Entrepreneurs in Residence roundtable discussion harkened to a few hundred similar conversations I've had with startups, startup accelerators and incubator programs so far this year. On the topic of startups, I wasn't just an empty suit ... though I was wearing a suit (for a change).

SoftLayer at the White House

When it comes to credibility in the startup space, SoftLayer has become quite an authority. Beyond our own growth and success as a startup a few short years ago, we've spent the last year investing in relationships with startup communities and the organizations fueling innovation in the US and around the world. For a perfect example of that investment, just look at today's news: SoftLayer Gives Next Generation of Entrepreneurs Foundation for Success with TechStars National Sponsorship.

You've heard us say it a million times, and you'll probably hear us say it a million more: SoftLayer loves startups, and we want to do everything we can to inspire, mentor and cultivate the next wave of world-changing businesses. From providing mentorship and hosting credits to participating in the conversations that will shape the startup landscape in the US for years to come, SoftLayer's representing.

If you have an idea, a business plan or just a brilliantly talented team looking for some direction, take a look at the TechStars 2012 Program Schedule and Apply for TechStars to get in on their fun in San Antonio, Boston, NYC, Boulder or Seattle. If you already have a killer startup that just needs a little help in scaling your success, hit us up at startups@softlayer.com, and we can tell you a little more about the Catalyst Program.

-@PaulFord

March 1, 2012

MassChallenge = Massive Opportunity

What would you do if your business received $50,000-$100,000 with no strings attached and no equity given up? Spend it to market to new customers? Invest in your infrastructure to scale your application? Use it lease office space that doesn't sit above a bowling alley? Buy all of your employees puppies? It's a dilemma that every startup on the planet would love to face, and with the launch of this year's MassChallenge Startup Accelerator and Competition, that "dilemma" won't just be theoretical.

MassChallenge

If you haven't heard of MassChallenge before, here's the quick rundown: MassChallenge is the largest startup accelerator and competition in the world, and the first to support high-impact, early-stage entrepreneurs with no strings attached. Participants are invited to a three-month accelerator program with world-class mentorship and training, free office space, access to funding, media and more. 15-20 startups are selected as winners of $50,000-$100,000, totaling $1.1M in cash awards. $4M+ in-kind support is provided (including some hosting goodness from SoftLayer). It's open to all: Any startup can enter, from anywhere, in any industry. No equity is taken. No restrictions apply.

Every entrant, not just the winners, will receive access to workshops, mentors, executives, other team members and sources of funding. Experts from the Massachusetts tech ecosystem will identify the highest potential startups, which will receive cash prizes and will qualify for privileged access to funding sources from across Massachusetts.

Why is MassChallenge important to SoftLayer? Well SoftLayer Loves Startups, and as an expression of that love, SoftLayer's Catalyst Program — our technology entrepreneur mentorship initiative will provide $25,000 cash to MassChallenge in addition to $1,000 per month of credit for qualifying participants to use on the SoftLayer platform (servers, cloud instances, storage, etc.) for one full year ... Which is reason enough to participate, right?

We're no strangers to the startup scene, and the reception we've received from organizations like MassChallenge, TechStars Cloud and Beta have only reinforced our commitment to communities created to foster entrepreneurship and innovation. I can't count the number of killer startups I've met in the past month (much less the past year), and I'm blown away by the portfolio of startup companies already in the Catalyst Program ... That's not a reason to be satisfied, though. We're not resting on our laurels; we're speeding up.

What does it mean for you as an entrepreneur? Easy: You need to sign up immediately, if not sooner. The deadline for applications for the 2012 competition is April 11, and if you apply before March 15, you'll be eligible for a $100 discount on the application fee. Visit masschallenge.org to learn more and get the ball rolling.

-@PaulFord

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