Expanding the Reach of MassChallenge


Katia Powell “grew up overweight” in Roxbury. “By the time I was 26, I weighed 350 pounds,” she says. “One day, everything was going wrong. I went to the corner store and bought honey buns, hot pockets and a cheesecake. When I got home, I caught my reflection in the mirror, and that’s when I realized there was a diva trapped inside my body. I left the food on the floor and walked to the Roxbury YMCA. I told them I needed to save my life. Whatever it took, I wanted to work out with the support of a community of people and stop digging my grave with my fork.”

It took two and a half years, but she dropped 200 pounds. “I gained and lost the weight along the way,” she says. “There’s a cultural component, and you don’t always get the support you need.” Now, with her startup, Black Girls Nutrition, she is providing a virtual nutrition community to support women and girls of color across the country who are tackling similar challenges. Powell is in the second group of entrepreneurs supported by the Boston Foundation to expand MassChallenge’s startup accelerator program to women and people of color in Boston.

“MassChallenge helped me learn how to build a brand and leverage technology to scale my work,” she explains. “Black Girls Nutrition uses a mobile responsive web app to provide direct access, based on location, to a community of black women and girls so they can engage with a social network to keep them on track. Our goal for our clients is, ‘Lose theweight, not your culture.’ ”

The MassChallenge accelerator gives global entrepreneurs the resources they need to launch and grow their companies, including mentorship, workshops, office space, access to funding and a chance to win shares of more than $1.5 million in zeroequity grants. Now the Boston Foundation is helping MassChallenge expand the reach of the innovation economy to underrepresented people of color and women. Entrepreneurs in the Foundation’s 2016 class were selected through community partnerships and came from the neighborhoods of Dorchester, Roxbury
and Mattapan.