Since 2018, Fundación MAPFRE has been promoting social entrepreneurship through the Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Awards. But the momentous work of these socially oriented startups does not end on the day they receive the award. What are the after effects of these projects and how has their participation in the awards helped them keep advancing their important work?
TEXT: RAMÓN OLIVER IMAGES: ISTOCK, FROM THE PROJECTS
They are not looking to become the next “unicorn” (a startup that reaches a market value of more than a billion dollars), and selling their project to a large multinational or venture capital firm that will make their founders millionaires is not part of their business plan. Even if they are not entrepreneurs in the usual sense, social entrepreneurs are essential in every society. And why? Because they use innovation and creativity to try to solve the problems that really concern people and cause them to suffer.
Aware of the fundamental role that this type of entrepreneurship initiative with a social dimension can play in a complex and constantly changing world, in 2018 Fundación MAPFRE set up its Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Awards, awards that recognize and promote innovation initiatives that stand out for their social commitment and technological orientation.
With four editions already completed and the fifth in its final phase, this event is a must for all those entrepreneurs who aspire to generate a truly transformative social impact through innovation. Three categories related to prevention and mobility, health improvement, and e-health digital technology and active aging; three global regions (Europe, Latin America and Brazil); and more than 220 projects presented in each edition are the credentials of these awards that give an important boost to innovation applied to social ends.
In addition to the prize money (40,000 euros for each of the winners), these awards pave the way to interesting opportunities for the companies that make it to the final stages. These include becoming part of Red Innova, a community of social innovators sponsored by Fundación MAPFRE and IE University, an academic partner in the awards. An ecosystem of social entrepreneurship in which these entrepreneurs who straddle the line between business and philanthropy receive support, mentoring and have the opportunity to share experiences and knowledge with participants from previous editions.
In this way, the link between Fundación MAPFRE and these entrepreneurs extends and strengthens far beyond the awards themselves. We wanted to find out how some of the winners and finalists of previous editions have fared after having taken part. Because once the glamour of the awards ceremony, the thank-you speeches and the family photos on stage are over, you have to keep working. And in their case, the work is vital: nothing less than trying to change the world.
MJN Neuro (Spain)
Winners of the firs t edition in 2018, MJN Neuro is a veteran of the Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Awards and a founding member of the R ed Innova network. It grabbed the attention of the judging panel with its mjn-SERAS, a device that assesses the risk of suffering an epileptic seizure thanks to a small headset connected to an app via Bluetooth. The headset detects when there is a high risk of suffering an epileptic seizure and sends visual and acous tic warnings to the user between 1 and 3 minutes before the seizure occurs. This means that the person has time to pr epare, and avoid accidents, like falls, that could result from the seizure.
“In the four years since we won the Fundación MAPFRE award we have achieved a great deal. Technological advances, certifications, awards and the launch of the product on the market… The truth is that we have been quite busy trying to deliver an impactful change to society”, summarizes Salva Gutiérrez, CFO of MJN Neuro.
The project has been evolving steadily throughout this period. At the end of 2018, the company received an injection of funding thanks to the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 SME Instrument program. Resources that enabled everything “from the expansion of our clinical studies, to internationalization projects and the technical evaluation of our product, to the creation of a structure and an inhouse technical team”, enthuses Gutiérrez.
The high point came with the launch of mjn-SERAS at the beginning of 2021. The product is CE marked as a medical device and is currently available for the Spanish market. “In the coming months, we are working on a European marketing strategy, mainly for the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy. After that we will move on to the United States, where we are already working on all the regulatory aspects with the FDA”, explains the social entrepreneur.
The company, which currently employs 14 people, expects to have 90 employees by 2025. They have already started working on what will another sure-fire winner: DREAMER, a device for the early detection of Alzheimer’s. Gutiérrez: “We are still striving to find new solutions for other neurological diseases in collaboration with various clinical and technological centers.”
NaviLens won the 2019 edition in the e-Health category with a smart universal digital signage solution for blind and visually impaired people. The system allows users to orient themselves and obtain information in unfamiliar environments, without the help of third parties and without the need for technological devices beyond their own cell phone.
“Winning the MAPFRE Award gave us the opportunity to meet other companies and find out about projects with a high social impact that are very inspiring and that have been a very important emotional support network for us”, says its marketing director, Nuria Fructuoso. This entrepreneur also appreciates the media boost that was generated around the project thanks to the award. “We achieved visibility that would have been impossible for us to get on our own, and it came at a crucial moment because we were just starting out.”
Three years after receiving this accolade, NaviLens has made a significant leap forward, both qualitatively and quantitatively. “We have made a tremendous effort to improve the technology, by incorporating new functionalities. This has allowed us to expand throughout Europe, the USA, Canada and part of Asia”, comments Fructuoso.
These technological developments and process improvements have enabled the company to obtain various quality seals and certifications, including ISO 27001 and the EIBT seal, and to undertake ambitious international projects. One of these is the inclusion of its QR code on all Kellogg’s products throughout Europe.
Nuria Fructuoso believes that the help provided by Fundación MAFRE and the Innova Network, both educational and emotional, is essential for a project like hers. And, she recalls, social entrepreneurship is a road full of obstacles. “There are some really interesting ideas and technologies that do not become successful due to a lack of means or knowledge of how to set up a business.”
NaviLens aims to become a universal signage standard. To do this, explains the specialist, they are working on two fronts: “We are increasing our number of users through ongoing work with them and specialized associations, as well as expanding our markets and technological uses.”
MiWEndo Solutions (Spain)
In 2020, this project won the 3rd edition of these awards, again in the e-Health category, with a medical device that integrates microwave technology with colonoscopy to improve the prevention, diagnosis and awareness of colorectal cancer. MiWEndo automates polyp detection by issuing an alarm when it finds one, increasing the field of vision to 360º and providing quantitative tissue classification without any modifications to current clinical practice.
“The Fundación MAPFRE award was a very important step for us, not only in terms of visibility, but also thanks to the knowledge we acquired about social entrepreneurship”, says Ignasi Belda, CEO of MiWEndo Solutions. The great challenge for a social entrepreneur, now just as it was then, continues to be “how to make the social objective profitable so that it can continue to be sustainable and enduring over time”, he affirms.
Red Innova and the community created around it have been key to the company’s development. “It has provided us with training in very diverse areas, all of which are important for high-impact entrepreneurship. We have been able to apply many of these lessons to our startup, and some of them have actually marked a turning point for us”, says Belda.
What does this change mean? “Our project is now more mature, we have fewer uncertainties and many of the issues that have arisen along the way have been resolved”, he explains. Ignasi Belda has a clear vision of the immediate future. “The big goal that we are inexorably approaching is the validation of our device for the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer in patients. We want to start the first tests before summer 2022, with 15 patients. After that, we are already planning bigger tests for the remainder of 2022.”
Since 2005, the Brazilian company Fleximedical has been innovating in the field of medical care, thanks to its containers, vans and trailers. Through these customized mobile units and hospital architecture projects, it supports major public health programs in the largest city in South America: São Paulo. A 2021 finalist in the 4th edition of the Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Awards, it was recognized for its benchmark social innovation in Brazil, a sign that the efforts it makes to ensure that all people have access to healthcare were on the right track.
“Challenging paradigms and proposing disruptive ways to solve basic issues such as health is not an easy task. There is still a lot of skepticism surrounding socially oriented business models. However, the popularization of environmental, social, and governance criteria, driven by the financial market itself, shows us that working for the common good is not jus t a new way of doing things, it is the only way”, says Ricardo Lauricella, head of Innovation & Brand Institutional Development at Fleximedical.
The journey through the Awards and Red Innova has helped Fleximedical to look beyond its borders. “It has helped us to put our internationalization plans down on paper, first for Latin America and, in the future, why not, the rest of the world. Last year we launched a Mobile Telemedicine Stand that will be presented at the end of this year at a startup event in Miami (USA)”, he points out.
In addition, Lauricella, outlines the company’s other immediate plans, which include exploring new patents. “We are working on a new health product aimed at seniors and aging care.”
Medical Innovation & Technology (Peru)
Innovating e-health solutions that allow healthcare centers to get closer to people. This is the aim of another of the finalists in the 4th edition of the Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Awards, the Peruvian company Medical Innovation & Technology. By developing various remote health solutions, the company has become a strategic ally for national and regional governments, hospitals and companies with Corporate Social Responsibility programs, so that they can make more efficient use of their resources, carry out preventive diagnoses and optimize their processes.
For Walter Sifuentes, its CEO and founder, entering the awards was a very positive experience at all levels: “The knowledge and experiences that the whole team took away with them were fantastic. There you realize that you are not alone, that there are other social innovators who understand you and speak the same language. Sharing and exchanging experiences with them was very enriching”, he stresses.
In addition, these connections developed within the Red Innova ecosystem allowed our team to become more integrated and cohesive. “For a small company like ours, this injection of motivation was fundamental. We are now much clearer about where we are heading and what our objectives are. We are also more aware of our weaknesses as an organization and the risks we face”, summarizes the project’s CEO.
Is Medical Innovation & Technology a better or different company to the one that entered the awards? “We are more efficient, and we have learned to project our message outward in a clearer way that allows us to connect better with our customers, partners and the other key players in our ecosystem.” In terms of future plans, the company is exploring international expansion and is seeking new funding rounds that will allow it to continue to have a positive impact on the most vulnerable populations.
The finalists for the 5th edition have already been shortlisted
Social Innovation does not know how to, should not and cannot stop. And in this permanent search for viable, inclusive and sustainable solutions that positively impact people’s lives, Fundación MAPFRE has announced the 9 shortlisted projects that will be appearing in the Grand Final of the fifth edition of the Fundación MAPFRE Social Innovation Awards, to be held in May.
Health Improvement and Digital Technology (e-Health)
- Epistemic (Brazil). A project that seeks to improve the quality of life of epilepsy sufferers and their families.
- ANA-Paz Mental (Mexico). Software platform that helps untrained caregivers provide better care to their patients at home.
- Tucuvi (Spain). Tech startup that seeks to make healthcare accessible and efficient so that everyone has the best possible quality of life at home.
Prevention and Mobility
- Lysa (Brazil). This is a robot based on the functions of a guide dog. It facilitates safe, affordable and autonomous mobility for the visually impaired.
- Smert (Chile). Emergency management system based on reading a QR code.
- Laddroller (Greece). This is a mobility device that exponentially improves the lives of people with disabilities, as well as their caregivers.
- Mais Vivida (Brazil). Connection platform in which young people, known as “angels”, teach older adults how to use day-to-day technology.
- NAU (Chile). Platform focused on the personal growth of people over 50, promoting lifelong learning and multigenerational socialization around interests and affinities.
- Kuvu (Spain). Social enterprise with a mission to improve the quality of life of older people by preventing and reducing unwanted loneliness.