How the projects in the Walkleys Media Incubator are evolving

We’re halfway through the incubator and many projects are radically reconsidering their plans — and that’s really exciting.

Projects change for so many reasons. They’re not as achievable as the founders first thought… Or the founders have seen a smarter or better way to achieve the same goals… Or maybe just the uptake of the original product wasn’t very good, and so teams need to shift their focus.

One of the most important elements of the Walkleys Media Innovation Incubator so far was about validating your idea: actually getting out there and asking your target audience what they want, trying to understand their problems and how you can solve them. This could be through face-to-face catch ups or surveys (the best approaches usually include both).

A great example of this in action is Lauren Ingram’s project called Adventuress, a travel journalism site and community targeting female and non-binary readers. Through the incubator and surveying her target readers, her ideas evolved from launching a great travel site her readers love, to a broader and more founder-esque focus on the multiple stakeholders she’ll need to appeal to as a business.

“I had so many ideas for the site and how it could work, but the only steps I had taken to making it a reality was buying the domain and some rough brainstorming,” Ingram says, who remains committed to creating great stories but is now also thinking about how to make the business take off.

“I’ve learned a lot more about the business side of a media startup, which was one thing I do not have experience in. This has also shaped my idea, and how I approach it, as I understand what brands, investors, and customers need better. The strongest and most sustainable parts of the idea were the ones that were the most unique in the market. For example: the eCommerce component of Adventuress with developing and selling digital travel guides. This is something very unique in the market, and will be one of the main focuses of the launch.”

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Post-it notes from our 2016 media innovation workshops.

Equipping journalists and creative arts industry folk with the skills to build a successful business was a major goal of the incubator program. The second week of the incubator featured a session from BlueChilli’s Alan Jones about revenue streams and business models.

This was followed by mentor ask-me-anything sessions from Stanford’s head of media experiments Tran Ha on design thinking and problem solving; The Lighthouse CEO Annie Parker (one of Australia’s best startup mentors) on startups and growth; and the Walkley Foundation’s Kate Golden on non-profit news organisations. Each brought a wealth of experience and differing approaches to the many challenges of launching new ventures.

Exploring the potential of projects as both non-profit and commercial ventures has been helpful for many of the projects in the program. About 40 per cent were planning not-for-profit entities when they entered.

One such project is Us, a mobile journalism only newsroom. Its founder Archit Sinha has been tuning in from India to take part in the sessions.

“Initially, when I had started the project, it was for a not-for-profit mechanism. But, as we dived deep into the project, we realise that there is a way to pull in sponsored editorial content,” Sinha says.

“So, we turned it from a MoJo (mobile journalism) training service into a MoJo marketplace. Initially it was a complex decision. But I realised that I had to sustain the model with sponsored editorial approach, and that should provide for an ideal balance. This is one of the major things that changed the shape of my project for the better.”

Sinha has also been finding journalists based in other countries such as Jordan, through connections in the incubator. This kind of connecting is happening more and more as the program continues. Another example is Lis Bastian, who has now hired another like-minded incubator participant to work on her solutions-journalism project The Big Fix.

Community is a make-or-break element of every incubator, and you can see how powerful radically increased connections can be. Having a cohort of similarly focused teams helps participants learn more, move faster and get a sense of how their project and its development sits within the group.

In great incubators, the pace of development increases as the startups really start powering each other along — both with support but also with healthy competition. The Walkleys Media Incubator is in its first year and we’ve learned a lot about encouraging a great community, but the burgeoning momentum in the group has been exciting to experience.

The exposure to other young projects has been both intimidating and inspiring for many of the incubator participants. Kath Dolan is working on an interview series with creative practitioners called Why Thank You I Made it Myself. Dolan says the first week was overwhelming but her understanding began to crystallise in the second week thanks to her conversations with other projects as well as some of the mentor sessions such as Annie Parker, Tran Ha and Kate Golden.

“I saw how I could hone and strengthen my project to create a customisable niche service well worth paying for. The mentors’ focus on solving users’ problems through iterative prototyping and testing showed me how my initial prototype — long online interviews with craftspeople, designers and artists — was one-size-fits-all. I’d need more nimble, flexible thinking to meet the distinct needs of emerging, aspiring and established creative business people. Eg shorter, sharper, more visual info bites by topic, which different types of customers could self-select and pay for,” Dolan says.

Dolan is asking big questions about her project and pondering how to create the kind of “fun oddball visual storytelling” she wants her site to be known for. But the program has also transformed how she is approaching the site as as business.

“I also realised something deep seated about my own attitudes to money and media. I entered the Incubator the same way I’ve approached freelancing for 15 years: with huge creative ambition and very modest financial ambition,” Dolan says.

“But I’m feeling much braver. The sad demise of Fairfax — my freelancing mainstay until recent years — that’s playing out currently is a timely reminder that traditional publishers aren’t going to help me towards financial sustainability. Paying users whose problems I’m addressing will. The hours involved will be immense. I’ll need a far steadier income to underwrite that labour. I’ll clearly need to pursue part time or contract work, not freelance projects, to make this a reality. So. Big changes ahead.”

There are hopefully big changes and ever bigger growth ahead for all of the projects. This week the teams filed applications to be considered for the Walkleys Innovation Fund shortlist. The shortlist is the top 20 to 30 projects, which will go into face-to-face training workshops in Sydney and Melbourne next week with Stanford’s Yvonne Leow.

We will share the shortlist here as soon as it is confirmed. We will be continuing the online incubator community group (run through Facebook) for all of the projects after the official incubator wraps up.

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