Creating Technology for Social Change

Reinventing Public Media: Matter, a media accellerator

Matter is a new startup accelerator which aims to reinvent public media. At the Media Lab today, Corey Ford, Jake Shapiro, and Jigar Mehta (who spoke at the Media Lab earlier this semester), are holding a conversation on the mission and details of Matter, the application process, and the culture that Matter hopes to create.

Read about Matter in the New York Times, on the Knight Foundation blog, and the PRX blog.

Corey, who is Matter’s CEO, tells us that stories define us and technology empowers us, disrupting the ways and institutions through which we tell stories. He reminds us that world-changing media can start small.

“What if you tried to start the next big media institution from scratch,” he asks us. How can we combine the values of public media and the best practices of entrepreneurship and design thinking? Great media ventures educate, inform, inspire, connect, and empower the audience. Cory lists some buzzwords: sustainable, collaborative, and human-centered design. Cory believes that tomorrow’s meaningful media institutions are created today, and that Matter is a place where mission-driven media entrepreneurs can build them.

Mission Statement: “We support media entrepreneurs building a more informed, connected, and empowered society through our 4-month startup accelerator.”

Jake Shapiro started out at WBUR as a producer for participatory talk radio journalism. In 1995, Jake started building band websites, sharing MP3s from a Media Lab webserver. After a year at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Jake co-founded Public Radio Exchange, an entrepreneurial public media platform. Jake says that PRX tried to bridge between legacy broadcasting and the energy of the web, pulling values from public media into the wired world and bringing Internet ideas back into public media. Along the way, Jake became an Ashoka Fellow, which broadened his view of viable models for fundamental change in a sector and society. Matter, Jake says, is the culmination of that story.

Jigar Mehta stands up next. In 2006, Jigar joined the New York Times as a video journalism. At the time, the Times was hiring documentary filmmakers to produce videos. He describes the “ground battle” with reporters to prove that film-makers were more than just A/V people. After five years at the New York Times, Jigar left to take a Knight Fellowship at Stanford to focus on collaborative video journalism. When the Arab Spring happened, Jigar and his colleagues created 18 Days in Egypt, a participatory documentary about the Egyptian revolution. 18 Days led to, a startup which is aiming to support other

Corey stands up next. He started at Frontline, where he worked on 17 films in six years. After September 11th, Corey was worried that the future was changing and public media wasn’t. Corey moved to Silicon Valley to learn more about innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership– hoping to bring that energy back into public media institutions, or perhaps start meaningful media institutions for the next generation. Stanford Business School was a great place to learn business practices, but it wasn’t a very creative place. Corey moved over to the D School at Stanford to combine design thinking with entrepreneurship. After setting up a venture fund, he’s now trying to link public media and entrepreneurship with Matter.

Corey shows a photo of Frontline founder David Fanning and Jessica Savitch before the very first FRONTLINE show. David Fanning and Michael Kirk were entrepreneurs, he says. “Everything big started small,” he says, showing us slides of well known public media personalities who started small: Twitter, Neighborland, Kickstarter, This American Life, Storify, Pulse.

What is Matter looking for? They want projects to be needs focused and solution agnostic. They are looking for “ventures that have a high potential to build a more informed, connected, and empowered society.” That includes participatory platforms, tools for content companies, mobile first applications, and content production engines. Ultimately however, it could be anything that fits the mission.

What kind of teams will Matter. fund? Multi-disciplinary teams of 2-4 cofounders (hustlers, hackers, designers, storytellers) with early-stage projects. Ultimately, they’re looking for the future transformational leaders in this space who they can fund.

They’re starting out by investing $50,000 in five companies, giving them four months of runway, a bootcamp for the company to find mentors, build a culture, find needs, and grow their project. Matter happens at a space in San Francisco. Each week will feature speakers and feedback from the community. Teams offer each other feedback. Each month, teams offer a demo day, with a final demo party at the end of the four months to find the next step. Matter’s initial partners are the Knight Foundation, KQED, and PRX.

Corey takes a moment to share his vision for startup culture and the “design thinking process.” Design is a process, he says, which helps us create something new that is viable, feasible, and desirable. He shows us a dizzying set of diagrams and encourages us to flare and focus on the drunken, step-by-step walk of the entrepreneur. A good startup culture is oriented around radical collaboration, human centred design, and a culture of prototyping. Good projects will have a specific audience and test them through iterative prototypes. By testing early and often, we can reduce project risk. Corey shows us Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation handbook and mentions that Alex will be one of the mentors.

To apply (deadline January 6), submit a pitch deck or executive summary about your venture, along with information about your team. The


How does Matter’s social mission play out? Corey responds that Matter will fund ventures that work towards a more informed and engaged society. Right now, they’re only investing in for-profit ventures. Being mission driven doesn’t only mean being non-profit.

Corey argues that public-interest media needs fundamental business model innovation. It’s not enough to just create good, foundation-supported media. They also want their entrepreneurs to be able to fly after 4 months. He talks to us about Echoing Green, who are agnostic about for-profit or non-profit. They bet on people who care about values and impact, people who are going to pivot in ways that make sense for society.

How much does Matter care about the idea? Corey responds that a team’s idea does reflect the people on the team, and that they care most about finding great people.

If you don’t have a team, still get in touch. Matter’s main focus is on early stage teams, but there’s a very small, teensy off-chance that they might maybe in the long term match you with someone doing similar work.

Why should a great team choose Matter rather than YC or Tech Stars. If you fit into Matter’s mission, care about building a great company culture, want access to audiences through Matter’s media partners, and want to work with a smaller number of teams, then Matter is right for you.

What competencies does Matter expect to build over time? Corey compares Matter to “impact accelerators” like Rock Health that focus on specific areas. Matter isn’t initially trying to imitate the strategic investment portfolio practices of Betaworks, though they might in the future.

Is this an annual program, or a one-shot attempt? Matter is a twice-annual program with enough funding for two years, and hopefully more. Corey names a variety of California media investors who are excited about getting involved.

Several audience members ask what for-profit public media looks like. Corey responds that Matter will invest in projects that aren’t going to fall off a cliff after the end of four months.

Someone asks what talents Matter cares most about. That’s up to teams to decide, Corey responds: “what skills do you need to build this?” Matter probably won’t help you find a co-founder. He advises teams to reflect on what it takes to get from point B to C and who they need to suceed.