The market for social networks and virtual communities will be joined on Saturday by Match2Play, a Maine app for connecting families and supporting local businesses. Created by Sara Lopez, the app will allow users to “match” with others based on shared interests, language or culture. 

The idea for the app was born when Lopez, who is originally from Colombia, moved to Maine from Puerto Rico four years ago. A mother of four, Lopez found it difficult to meet other parents and find family-friendly activities for her boys. 

“The idea (for Match2Play) was born after I moved here from Puerto Rico,” said Lopez, who now lives in Portland. “It was a struggle to connect with other families. I was new in the area. It was kind of difficult to not only make friends with kids close to my kids’ age, (but also) to find things to do and places to go.”

Businesses that register for the Match2Play app can create profiles that families see when looking for activities near them. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

To solve her own problem and help others in similar situations, Lopez put her 10 years of marketing experience to use and decided to create an app that would benefit both families and local businesses. 

Businesses that register for the app can create profiles that families see when looking for activities near them. Currently, Lopez has 35 offers from businesses to join when the app launches this coming weekend. Businesses can offer deals and discounts through the app, and Match2Play receives a cut of all purchases made. 

To expand the business side of the operation, Match2Play formed a partnership with Portland Buy Local, an organization that supports local businesses in the Portland area. The partnership is part of Portland Buy Local’s media partnership program, which seeks to support a diversity of advertising opportunities. 

“(Match2Play is) our newest media partner, and that means that we cross-promote one another,” said Mary Alice Scott, executive director of Portland Buy Local. “It’s a recognition that what they’re doing will help local businesses because it’s an opportunity for family-friendly businesses to connect with a wider audience. And then we promote their program, Match2Play, to our members to say, ‘Hey, this is a cool new opportunity you might not have heard of before, a new way for you to kind of explore advertising.’”

To advertise to families, Lopez reached out to various family groups on Facebook and also recruited parents already within her network. She met Val Schmitt, a mother of an 8-year-old boy, while golfing, and Schmitt was sold on the idea instantly. 

 “(Lopez) explained (the app) and I was like, ‘Well, that’s brilliant,’” said Schmitt, who lives in Falmouth. “We have apps to connect adults, we have apps to connect communities, … but there really isn’t something just for families. It’s perfect. I have an 8-year-old, and he’s an only child, so I don’t have older siblings to try, ‘Oh, I know that Billy’s little sister is the same age as my third (child).’ That doesn’t work when you only have one.”

Schmitt plans to use the app primarily to find other families with children who might share her son’s interests. 

“The ability to try and match age range as well as interests seems like a really great appeal,” said Schmitt. 

Adrian Espinoza, a single father of a 2-year old daughter who also runs the Empanada Club, a pop-up stand selling Latin American specialties, heard about the app directly from Lopez and found that it suited his needs both as a parent and as a business owner.

“(Lopez) reached out to me telling me about the app, and I thought, ‘This is amazing, this is exactly what I need,'” said Espinoza.

“In the winter, especially, I’m always looking for something to do. … Sometimes it’s hard to be a single parent,” Espinoza added.

Match2Play currently has over 13,000 families preregistered, signaling to Lopez how prevalent isolation is among parents. While the pandemic may have exacerbated this isolation, she sees it as a constant problem parents face.

“Isolation is a problem right now (because of the pandemic),” said Lopez, “(but) isolation for parents with little kids is a constant.”

To put parents concerned about meeting others on the internet at ease, the app will also include an optional background check feature. Users pay a one-time fee to have their profile verified and can then choose to match only with other verified users.

“We encourage the users to verify their profiles, and the way that they verify the profile is a one-time payment,” said Lopez. “After you pay, it runs a background check to see that you are the person that you are saying that you are, and at the same time to see that you don’t have any criminal record that could affect the security of the kids or could affect the security of the whole family. At the moment, we are the only social network that runs actually a background check. The majority of the apps, including dating apps or any other kind of social network application on the market, do ID verification or they do other steps of verification, but no background check.”

The app will launch in English initially, but Lopez hopes to eventually add other languages in order to be accessible to more people, especially immigrants, throughout the state.

While new social networks have been appearing rapidly for years, Match2Play prides itself on being the first app designed primarily for families’ well-being.

“I’m so excited for (Lopez),” said Scott. “She’s so enthusiastic, and I’m really impressed by this. I think it’s a cool idea. I think it’s really unique, and I’m always excited when there’s something unique like this that starts in Portland. I think it’s a sign of the entrepreneurial spirit that makes our city so cool.”


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