Red Bull’s social entrepreneurship training program, Amaphiko Academy, just backed 15 community improving projects as part of the company’s push into another extreme sport of sorts: social entrepreneurship survival. The winners, most of who are young, and the majority of which are minorities, will meet in Baltimore in early August for a 10-day boot camp to workshop their ideas, followed by 18 months of coaching from like-minded executives that the energy drink company has recruited to act as mentors.
While this is the Amaphiko Academy’s first year in the U.S., the international program started in South Africa in 2014 and has since expanded to Brazil. Combined, both places have incubated 100 viable small business, the best known of which is probably Repurpose Schoolbags, a backpack and solar lantern charger that has earned repeated shout-outs from Bill Gates because of its clever utilitarian design.
A selection panel of eight people from both Red Bull and Ashoka, a partner group that coaches and often provides fellowships for emerging social entrepreneurs, selected this year’s class. In total, about 250 people applied, leading to a shortlist of about 30. Before rendering a decision, Amapiko judges visited many applicants in their hometowns to get a firsthand view of their work. “We looked at how much they care about the problem, what vision do they have for themselves, and their business, and how is that aligned,” says Red Bull Amaphiko career coach and social innovation consultant Alfie van der Zwan. Being especially resilient and open to feedback was also crucial.
Amaphiko’s goal is to create a fleet of sustainable groups and companies that provide either a helpful product or service to those in need. Many U.S. winners are focused on the service side of that equation, thinking up helpful social service programs rather than the next Repurpose bag.
In Baltimore, Brittany Young has founded B-360 is a community group that uses dirt bikes to teach STEM education, and connect interested students to likely employers within the field.
In Tampa, Jon Dengler heads Well Built Bikes, a bike program that repairs donated old bikes, and uses secondhand parts to build new bikes for those who need them, particularly the homeless who might otherwise not have way to commute to work. The bikes are priced affordably and can be earned by working for the organization. Thanks to Tampa’s mild weather, it’s a year-round solution.
In New Orleans, Matthew Kincaid has launched the nonprofit Overcome Racism, which provides training and consulting services for schools, teachers and other organizations to avoid creating a culture of systemic bias. That’s something even supposedly equality-minded nonprofits still struggle with.
Other projects include an online platform to sell clothes made by and for women responsibly, a pop-up dinner project that awards micro-grants to needy causes that diners learn about and vote for while at the table, and a sexual abuse program that offers a wide range of services for victims.
For now, the process is to prove that each concept works in one place, and have the originators try to grow it or expand elsewhere. “We have a tendency to think we can provide a solution and parachute it into the community, whereas the people on the ground know best how to provide that,” says van der Zwan.
Amaphiko is Zulu for “wings”—a play on the caffeinated brand’s promise to give drinkers something of a lift. While the current class doesn’t receive any financial boost from participation, the company hopes the camaraderie and life skills taught will be invaluable. That makes sense, as in some cases, the projects are so nascent that there wouldn’t be much to invest in.
“What we are looking for is potential,” says van der Zwan. “A lot of these are grassroots things solve [problems] for their communities. To not have it all figured out already is a good thing. We want to help them grow and develop as they do.”
Learn more about all the winners here.