So far, two cohort groups, some 21 people, have gone through my Seminar in Media Entrepreneurship for mid-career professionals. It is the first seminar that each cohort group takes as they embark on the 20-month, 10-course journey to a Master of Arts in Media Entrepreneurship (MAME) at American University’s School of Communication (SOC).
As entrepreneurship courses multiply in journalism school curricula, opportunities arise, but so do many questions.
Here are 10 takeaways from my experience to date.
1. Require students to have a startup idea in mind.
It may not be the project they will present for their capstone, but if they have to think of a venture after they begin their course work, they will quickly fall behind.
2. Vet students’ passion to launch something and the creativity of their idea as criteria for admission.
Don’t require GREs or even high GPAs. Neither count for much in the entrepreneurship space.
3. Consider using Pandora to market your program.
This is a brilliant idea from SOC Graduate Services director Sharmeen Ahsan-Bracciale. Every student in my class said they had heard about the program while listening to music.
4. Define “media” broadly.
It’s clear that my students regard media entrepreneurship as more than journalism. It is any kind of digital information or toolkit. And who knows? The emerging pattern has media startups adding journalism capabilities as they grow. Consider how the expansion of such digital information deliverers as BuzzFeed and Twitter has whet their appetites for bonafide journalism and led to recent hires of news editors with journalism chops.
5. Urge students to think of their startups as accomplishing a “job [that needs] to be done.”
I’ve found this to be a useful framework. As disruptive technology guru Clay Christensen notes, people don’t buy products; they buy solutions to problems they encounter.
6. Present, present, present.
I have students distill their epiphanies from class assignments into very short, 3- to 5-page wrap-ups accompanied by an AV presentation to the entire class. They’ve used Powerpoint, Keynote, Prezi and SlideRocket for presentations that got increasingly sophisticated week by week. By the end of the semester, they had a focused pitch deck. They even scheduled their own sharing session to teach one another multimedia presentation tricks.
7. Get permission to publicize their ideas – on your website and to the rest of the school.
While some students want to stick to the non-disclosure route, others will find support and help by being open. In the future, I’d like to invite interested faculty and students to their final project presentations.
8. Partner with nearby accelerators to expose students to the local startup scene.
American University is the first university to partner with 1776, a year-old incubator in Washington, D.C. that has attracted scores of fledgling enterprises. Students and faculty can work at the AU table and attend some presentations. Faculty have begun sharing their expertise in clinics for 1776’ers that Amy Eisman, SOC’s director of media entrepreneurship, is expanding.
9. Launch a speaker series, not just for media entrepreneurship students but other students as well.
Our DC Startup Forum presents local entrepreneurs in monthly, hour-long Q&As during spring and fall semesters. WAMU public radio uploads video of the sessions. They also appeal to budding social entrepreneurs at AU’s School of International Service and business entrepreneurs at the Kogod School of Business.
10. Aim for a prototype or minimum viable product.
This is a key challenge for many media entrepreneurship programs. If extra programming skills are needed, consider bringing on a visiting programmer for 10 to 12 hours a week who can help jumpstart student ideas. Credit for this idea goes to Dan Pacheco at Syracuse.
One idea leads to another and the routes to new opportunities have been surprising. We’ve found no shortage of good ideas for the future of news and information.
Jan Schaffer is executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism and Entrepreneur in Residence at American University’s School of Communication, Washington, D.C. She launched J-Lab in 2002 to incubate pioneering initiatives in civic journalism, participatory journalism and citizen media ventures. J-Lab has funded 100 startups and pilot projects. It has also awarded innovations in journalism, published major research reports and produced Web tutorials for digital media entrepreneurs. She previously led the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, a $14 million initiative that funded more than 120 pilot news projects to engage people in public issues. She is a Pulitzer Prize winner for The Philadelphia Inquirer, where she worked for 22 years as a reporter and editor. She is a speaker, trainer, author, consultant and web publisher on the future of journalism.
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