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DC’s MassLight has $100K up for grabs for 6 local startups

The software company is investing to build alongside non-technical founders. It's the first steps towards a twice-a-year accelerator program the company will be hosting later this year.

Daniel Abrams is CEO of MassLight. (Courtesy photo)

When Chinatown-based software consultancy MassLight began investing in local startups about five years ago, CEO Daniel Abrams said he noticed a pattern.

“We started getting back this consistent response, which was, ‘We’re interested in the investing that you’re doing, we’re raising a round, but the area we really have trouble with is, on the software engineering side, we don’t know how to hire engineers or we don’t know how to build a software product,'” Abrams said.

The response prompted Abrams, who was a former Apple employee before he founded the company in 2000, to pivot towards a new model with his web application development company: investing in founders who needed assistance on the technical aspects of building a startup. Starting this week, the 50-person company opened applications for its investment opportunity, offering $100,000 each for six local companies with non-technical founders in exchange for company equity.

While each investing scenario is different, Abrams said MassLight tends to invest in founders who have an idea and background to market their product, but lack the tech experience. The company takes equity stakes ranging from 3% to 20%, depending on a team’s stage.

The model has proven conducive for business to business companies, and works particularly well with medicine and telehealth startups.

“We don’t have hard and fast rules, but the most important thing is that we’re generally looking for non-technical cofounders,” Abrams said. “If a startup has a technical team in place, most of the time they don’t really need our services.”

MassLight’s very first investment was for D.C. health-tech company Pacify, which was later acquired by Advantia Health in 2019. But it has developed more of a consistent model for investments, with a focus on non-technical founders. Following the investment, Abrams said MassLight sits down with founders to discuss their intended six-to-12 month business goals and determine what pieces of software or products a company needs in order to meet them. MassLight then helps founders put together a technical team.

In the next few months, Abrams said the company also intends to pivot again to an accelerator model for its investments. It will maintain the $100,000 investments —what he calls a build-for-equity model — but MassLight will be investing on a more consistent, defined schedule. It will host the accelerator twice a year, and he said the new model will also let the startups talk and interact with one another as they build their business.

We feel like if we move to a cohort model where it’s clearly defined that this is a group, companies within the cohort will get that sort of interaction, not just between us and one single startup,” Abrams said. “But having the startups able to assist and help each other, we think will be pretty valuable.”

Applications for the investment funding are due September 1.

Apply here
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