Learnings from AMPLIFICA, the early-stage impact startup accelerator in Oporto - MAZE - Decoding Impact

Learnings from AMPLIFICA, the early-stage impact startup accelerator in Oporto

The Área Metropolitana do Porto (AMP), along with MAZE and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, completed the third edition of AMPLIFICA, a capacity building program, that accelerated 38 impact projects since 2017 tackling areas such as at-risk youth, the inclusion of people with disabilities and the empowerment of informal caregivers. With the program, we have learned that the selection process and stakeholder engagement are critical success factor as well as continuous mentorship support.

AMP, a public institution composed by seventeen municipalities in the region of the city of Oporto, in the north of Portugal, has been one of MAZE’s critical partners since 2016.  From the very beginning, there was a common understanding from AMP that social innovation is a vital aspect of regional economic development. AMP was one of the first public institutions in Portugal to recognise the need for capacity building among social organisations to foster innovation for social good. This strategic challenge led to the design of AMPLIFICA, a startup accelerator program targeting existing social organisations working in very diverse areas such as at-risk youth, the inclusion of people with disabilities and the empowerment of informal caregivers.

AMPLIFICA started with a generalist approach to acceleration. In 2019, the programme evolved to become an early-stage impact accelerator for teams aiming to develop new tech-based products and services. To successfully reach this new audience, we established a strategic partnership with the University of Porto, specifically with UPIN, an innovation department that manages intellectual property, technology transfer activities and corporate partnerships for the university.

The third edition of the program accelerated 18 talented founders working on highly innovative products and services, such as:

  • Hernâni from Serious Games for Health, a virtual reality application that increases treatment response in children with cancer;
  • Pedro and Joana from Chaperone, a career development platform for scientists
  • Iva and Joana, two chemists working in a research institute, that are developing Umbrella, an environmentally friendly and toxic-free sunscreen made out of organic waste from the wine industry.

Six months on from the final pitch, the participating projects were able to leverage an aggregated amount over € 500k in investment to pilot and validate their solutions. Looking back on the three editions, here’s what we concluded to be the factors that determine the success of the program and performance of the projects:

  • The selection process: investing time in preparing a rigorous application form and being diligent in the interview process ensures in program-project-fit and consistency across the cohort
  • Strong brand: the rebranding of the program positively impacted the quality of the projects that applied
  • Continuous mentorship: the best way to help the projects overcome their challenges and progress in a structured manner is to make time for individual and group mentorship as well as brainstorming sessions with experts.
  • Stakeholder engagement: the commitment to the program partners to the intended outcomes is critical in all stages of the programme such as outreach, selection, fundraising.

All in all, we feel like the programme was very successful and proud to have partnered with AMP to make it happen. We are also very curious about the future of the participating startups whom we will be following very closely in the coming months.

The pre-accelerator programme promoted by Área Metropolitana do Porto has the objective of foster the social innovation ecosystem in the region. The programme is developed in partnership with Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and implemented by MAZE. IES – Social Business School and UPIN – Universidade do Porto Inovação are also active partners and participate in key moments such as workshops and the Hackathon.

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