Casa do Impacto talked to Margarida Vale, co-Founder of Maria, one of the projects that this month ends the training period for the Rise for Impact acceleration program.

We enter the final stretch of the Rise for Impact training period and invite the 10 participants to take a look back at their journey so far. On December 16th, we will meet the three finalists of the program who will enter the incubation phase, which will lead them to the final prize, in an event not to be missed!

Grab your free ticket here.

In today’s interview, you get to know Maria, a digital community to promote the development of emotional and social skills of family, friends and informal caregivers of someone with mental illness in an accessible, convenient and relaxed way.



How did the idea of creating Maria come about?

Rita Lima and I, both co-founders, met in the chair of Social Entrepreneurship: Building Impact Ventures of the Master in Management at Católica Lisbon School of Business & Economics. In this subject, taught by Professor João Cotter Salvado, we were challenged to select a social or environmental problem that we would like to see resolved so that, during the semester, we could study it in-depth and find a solution that would minimize it. As the daughter of a person with severe mental illness, I immediately suggested – and the group accepted – the problem of the lack of support given to the relatives of people with mental illness. What does this mean? What problem is this? When we receive a diagnosis of mental illness from someone close to us, we want to support recovery and adaptation to life with the disease. But keeping is difficult! We do not feel prepared, informed, and capable of playing this supportive role most of the time. As this is a taboo topic, it is little talked about in our social groups, so we isolate ourselves and feel alone in this particular but essential aspect of our life. I had these sensations, which were given to me by my experience, but we soon realized that all of this had already been documented and was more problematic than we first imagined. We found a 2015 study by the European Federation of Associations of Families of People with Mental Illnesses (EUFAMI), which revealed that more than 1 in 3 family members is on the verge of reaching a breaking point! 88% of them want more information about their mental illness, 90% aspire to have more opportunities to meet and share experiences with other family members. Thus, it seemed to us that Maria would have to incorporate education solutions for mental illness and peer interaction experiences. All this to increase literacy and the perception of the ability to care and reduce isolation and loneliness.

Later, having finished the course with all the ideas on paper, we applied to the Investment Program of the +PLUS Fund at Casa do Impacto to test our approach to this problem. And so Maria was born.


What drove you to participate in Rise for Impact?

While at the +PLUS Fund, we were validating our impact potential, Rise for Impact emerged as an opportunity to reflect on and restructure our business model. We wanted to think more about sales and less about impact because until then, it was the other way around, and we knew we had to combine both! In addition, we wanted to continue to benefit from the mentor community at Casa do Impacto and meet other entrepreneurs and their projects.


What is it, how does it work, and who does Maria address?

Currently, Maria is an online support network for family members of people with mental illness where they learn, reflect and share experiences. Specifically, Maria offers workshops on the various mental illnesses and how to deal with them and reflection and sharing sessions among peers in a 1-on-1 format.


What stage are you in now?

There was an idea, the initial team was assembled, and the first investment that allowed the launch was raised. We are now between the change and model phases! We’re synthesizing our post-launch findings, assessing what users like vs features that don’t have traction, and figuring out “how to make money” from our products.

Duas senhoras conversam

“With our activity, we leverage the well-being of family members – by reducing the emotional and social burden and increasing levels of self-efficacy – and in people with mental illness because they feel better supported.”

How has your Rise for Impact experience been during the 3 months of training? How has this training helped you work on your project to achieve the +Plus Fund’s objectives?

It has been very enriching! This program has given us handy theoretical tools and allowed us to apply what we have learned to the context of our organization. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Miguel Teixeira and Francisco Neves for the demand with which they play this mentoring role! We understand the requirement as quality; that’s the only way we develop, personally and professionally. Furthermore, we have learned a lot from other entrepreneurs. The selected projects are in different phases so that by sharing each one’s mistakes, successes and plans, learning is generated among all. Regarding the second question, as I explained earlier, Rise for Impact gave us an answer to the question “So what now?” which arises with the end of the +PLUS Fund.


What would it mean for you to win Rise for Impact? 

Winning Rise For Impact would mean more families being supported! It would be the opportunity for us to have more means – financial and non-financial – to eradicate our target social problem. That’s what matters to us, and it’s for our organization that we guide ourselves in every step we take in Maria. Casa do Impacto was the House that welcomed us – and moving house would not be a choice if that choice were ours!


How does the project contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda? 

Maria contributes to the fulfilment of Sustainable Development Goal 3 – Quality Health and Well-Being. With our activity, we leverage the well-being of family members – by reducing the emotional and social burden and increasing levels of self-efficacy – and in people with mental illness because they feel better supported. At Maria, we believe that a patient who is better supported by his family is a patient who is less likely to have crises, relapses and even suicidal thoughts.


In 2025, how do you see the Maria community?

The needs of our target are varied, and it is not just information and important social contact that family members of people with mental illness need. Because we know this, we also know that we have a lot of work ahead of us regarding product development and establishing partnerships. Without wanting to reveal too much, I can share that by 2025 we will make Maria a one-stop-shop for relatives of people with mental illness!



Find out all about Maria here. Stay tuned! This month we will get to know the 10 projects that participate in the acceleration, making their pitch at the Demoday that will take place on December 16th at Casa do Impacto. Admission is free, but prior registration is required here.

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