The search for social impact startups

MAP has expanded the hunt for the very best impact founders

Abena Ofori
Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP)
6 min readMar 27, 2019


— updated 3 February 2020

The announcement

For the first time in 2019, we are shifting our eligibility criteria for social impact founders joining our flagship program — the MAP Startup Accelerator! MAP is now open to:

  • startups of any kind with at least one founder who is a student, staff or alumni of the University of Melbourne, and
  • social impact startups — these founders no longer need to be student staff or alumni of the University of Melbourne.

In partnership with the Cameron Foundation, Giant Leap Fund (announced in The Australian, March 12, 2019) and Save the Children, we want to broaden our reach and support the best impact founders in Australia.

The backstory

Since our announcement, we’ve been asked — ‘Why?’ We made this move to align with the public good mission and leverage the leading research capacity of the University of Melbourne. Even more importantly, we want to support founders actively working to address the pressing, intractable problems they see in our economy, society, and environment — the for-purpose movement has meant we see more and more of these founders each year.

MAP has always supported impact founders, with 1–2 such startups in each cohort since we began in 2012. These founders were unique — and unwilling to compromise on their financial or impact goals. While challenges and roadblocks were faced as they built their startups, they have started creating tangible societal or environmental difference. We want to support more startups like these!

The startups we’re looking for

With this new change, we are particularly excited to support social impact startups in these 3 broad areas, read on to see the list complete with example sectors and a MAP startup we’ve supported in the past:

Improving the lives of underrepresented and underserved communities through equity, access or inclusion.

startups in > civic engagement, education, human rights, social harm alleviation (of all types), economic and social participation for refugee and asylum seeker communities, indigenous populations or people with a disability etc.

Pride Cup (MAP18) — harnessing the power of sport to send a strong message of hope, inclusion and acceptance to LGBTIQ+ athletes, officials and supporters.

Innovations that improve health outcomes and the quality of care delivery.

startups in > mental or physical health, food and nutrition, aged care, paediatric care, therapeutic technologies etc.

SmileyScope (MAP17) — a drug-free solution that keeps children calm and still during clinical procedures, making it safer and easier to perform critical health check-ups.

Innovations in energy, transport, urban infrastructure, and water or food security.

startups in > cities, energy and resources, green and clean tech, water and sanitation, materials, financial empowerment, environmental sustainability etc.

Allume Energy (MAP16) — making solar an affordable opportunity for residents and businesses in multi-metered buildings.

The founders we’re looking for

Over the years, we’ve noticed that impact founders competitive for MAP tend to exhibit these four qualities.

First, a deep domain expertise or a lived experience with the problems they are looking to solve. Second, an endless curiosity or fascination with their problem areas — appreciating the complexity of, and uncovering nuances the system(s) they operate in — to bring the best possible solution to market. Third, a relentless resourcefulness in a diverse team with a proven track record and ability to execute. And finally, a clear commitment to their startup, and to learning from their fellow founders — we require at least one founder to be based full time at our office to build community and enhance cohort effect.

Impact founders from the MAP Startup Accelerator and Velocity

Impact teams we’ve supported in the past like Acusensus, Umps Health, MimicTec and Relectrify really demonstrate this. If you possess these qualities and aspirations in your founding team, we’d love to see an application.

Defining social impact

Since our announcement, we’ve also been asked — ‘What is a social impact startup?’. We have chosen to steer clear of the highly contested term ‘social enterprise’, preferring instead to use ‘social impact startup’.

We describe a social impact startup as one that works at the intersection of technology, social impact, and business. Where the founders use the power of markets and emerging tech to create value that addresses a societal or environmental problem’s root cause, instead of its symptoms.

While we remain agnostic to business model you choose to affect change — from not-for-profit, social enterprise to for-profit, you will get the most out of MAP if your startup is able to demonstrate high growth potential (ie. the ability to scale through replication or expansion). Again, if this sounds like you, you should apply!

Infusing social impact

MAP remains a generalist accelerator, open to startups of all kinds. While competition has certainly increased for social impact startups coming into the accelerator, we believe in diversity in its broadest sense, represented both through our founders and the types of startups they build as it is critical to rapid learning and to success.

By creating an environment where startup and impact founders can influence and support each other with their business, technical and impact acumen, there will be no limit to what our future cohorts could achieve!

The inaugural impact cohort (MAP19)

Bindi MapsBindiMaps is a mobile app that locates users precisely in indoor spaces. It employs a simple, natural-language audio system to describe where users are and what’s around them, and the best way to get to their chosen destination.

BindiMaps does this using a network of Bluetooth beacons, a sophisticated mapping and route-guidance system, and smartphone sensors.

While at MAP, Co-Founder Mladen Jovanovic focussed on expanding the startup’s footprint in Melbourne and secured impressive contracts with large companies as they expand their efforts to improve accessibility.

Hello Cass Hello Cass is an SMS chatbot providing discreet access to localised, accurate information and support for people experiencing or affected by family and sexual violence.

1 in 4 Australian women experience some form of family or sexual violence in their lifetime, yet less than 15% of incidents of violence are reported. Hello Cass seeks to make it easier for those experiencing or affected by family and sexual violence to ask questions about domestic violence, sexual assault, financial, emotional or psychological abuse — and it feels just like texting a friend.

While at MAP, Emma Koster landed agreements with major state government bodies to get every response agency and school in Victoria to make the Hello Cass service known to their communities. She also secured the much coveted DGR status for her not for profit, which remains the only SMS chatbot of its kind in the world.

EnablerEnabler’s platform combines the principles of game design, mobile app technology, best-practice content and sophisticated data analytics to make high impact training scalable, affordable and accessible. We’re a company run by people with disability, for people with disability, to increase inclusion and accessibility in the community.

While at MAP, Founder Huy Ngyuen focused on fundraising, sales and securing larger enterprise clients.

GeckoTraxxGecko Traxx is an outdoor brand for people with a disability — enabling wheelchair users to get outdoors and explore.

Their first product, the Gecko Traxx Tyre is a unique portable and affordable wheelchair accessory that enables off-road access for manual wheelchair users. The flexible set of tyres simply wraps around the existing on-road tyres of a manual wheelchair for when challenging terrain is encountered, giving immediate off-road capability on soft surfaces such as sand, grass, snow or gravel.

While at MAP, Founder Ryan Tilley focused on getting their multi-award winning design to manufacture and secured avenues for distribution with multiple vendors.

Applications for MAP20 are open until Sunday 22nd March, 11:59pm

If you’d like to learn more about the program or send in your application, head to for more information.