Get to Know the Portuguese Entrepreneurship Ecosystem: MAZE

As part of the Scaleup Portugal Report, we created a series of interviews where we introduced the members of the Portuguese Entrepreneurship Ecosystem. This week, we'll go through the highlights of our interview with the MAZE's team.

This year MAZE was our partner for the launch of the 2021 edition of the Ecosystem Reports, developed by BGI and EIT Digital. If you haven't already checked the reports, you can download them for free here.

However, it was not the first time that we have collaborated with this team. Born from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in 2013, MAZE has been playing an important role in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, supporting the expansion of enterprises, supporting the public sector to improve the impact of its services, and making impact investments in businesses with innovative solutions capable of solving social and environmental problems.

For that reason, in 2019 we decided to invite them to our "Scaleup Portugal" Series. This is a series of interviews available on Youtube and Spotify, created as an add-on to the reports to understand the perspective of some important players in the Portuguese startup ecosystem.

If you didn't watch the interview with Rita Casimiro, António Miguel and Luís Fonseca, we'll leave you the best parts of it below! So, read on to find out how this company is making a difference in our lives.

What does MAZE do?

António: “MAZE is an impact investment firm that was created by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation back in 2013. And when we say we are an impact investment firm, “impact” is the first thing you should know about MAZE because in everything we do, impact is the common denominator. We are not trying to make things a little bit better, we are trying to do things that solve social and environmental problems.”

“We are not necessarily in the business of attracting philanthropy or donations. We firmly believe that impact is the greatest economic opportunity of our times. And by economic opportunity I mean that social and environmental problems are big, and hiding behind these problems there are great opportunities. If we solve food waste alone, it’s a 1 trillion dollar per year economic cost to the world. If someone solves through a marketplace solution, a lot of people will profit from it and the environment will say thank you. And that’s our vision.”

“(...) As of now, we are investors acting on three fronts: one, through a venture capital fund, which has 35 million euros to invest in European impact startups; two, accelerating these businesses and fostering partnerships between them and larger corporations (...); and lastly, helping governments who are typically the biggest impact investors because they fund services for those that cannot pay the services.”

In Portugal things have changed very quickly in terms of innovation. How have you adapted to these changes?

Rita: “I think that actually we were quite lucky because we were founded 6 years ago, and this was when we - together with Gulbenkian Foundation - really wanted to bring the impact investing topic to Portugal. So we started slowly working and involving all the relevant stakeholders in the market here in Portugal, from the private sector, to the public sector, to the legal sector… to understand “ok, what do we need to do in order to create a market here?”. (...) So I think it was a very organic growth and we literally surfed the waves. I don't think we ever had to adapt or that we saw a change in the market and we thought “we need to do this because we're lagging behind”.

There is still skepticism about impact investing. What is your strategy to help people believe?

António: “Self-fulfilling prophecy is something that is born out of a fake fact, but because people believe in it, it actually becomes a real fact. Because there is that belief, less capital is being mobilized into the impact sector, and therefore there’s the myth that in order to have impact we need to sacrifice returns. In the end, what we will all understand is that some impact investments will use better returns, some impact investments will yield marketplace returns, some will feel lower returns, and some will fail... And that's fine, because that’s life in general. (...) So the question will be: what do consumers want, and what do the next generations want?"

Rita: “I think impact investment is also looked at by investors as a great risk mitigation strategy, especially when you see the threats that climate change is posing to all of us as consumers, but especially to companies/massive corporations. We’ve seen a lot of great problems, and impact investing companies have certain mechanisms to filter for risk. At the end of the day, it’s about risk. It’s the fact that you have higher concerns for inclusivity, so you are making sure that you mitigate certain social aspects. From an environmental point of view, you mitigate problems for your infrastructure. This is one of the reasons why the cost of capital in this area is lower, because effectively this is just making a smarter use of your resources and having a longer-term perspective.”

Also Read: Get to Know the Portuguese Entrepreneurship Ecosystem: Everis