It’s been more than a year since the Google News Initiative and LION Publishers launched the GNI Startups Lab to help 10 news businesses work toward long-term sustainability through hands-on training and revenue experimentation. It was one of LION’s first programs for independent, digital news organizations, and our goal was to gain a nuanced understanding of how best to support them.
We learned a lot from that program, and the outcomes were encouraging. After working through our custom curriculum and receiving coaching support and a total of $350,000 in direct funding, the inaugural cohort of publishers reported an average annual budget increase of 71 percent and significantly moved the needle on their financial and operational health.
We were eager to apply those learnings to inform our next iteration of the program, which is why we’re thrilled to announce an expanded partnership with the Google News Initiative to launch not just one, but three Startups Labs in 2022 to serve a total of 48 publishers. Learn more about how to apply below.
Each Lab will focus on a key topic related to building a sustainable news business: managing money and risk, building and managing a team and planning for revenue growth. Publishers have told us time and again that these areas capture both their most urgent strategic priorities and their biggest challenges, so we’ve designed these programs to be laser-focused on these specific needs.
Here’s more about how we’re incorporating what we’ve learned into our 2022 GNI Startups Labs.
Publishers are busy, and we need to meet them where they are
Time-bound, synchronous curriculum (think: webinars) can be powerful learning opportunities, but they can also be too inflexible for news leaders running the day-to-day operations of a lean organization. That’s why each of our three Labs will be tight, eight-week programs focused on a single topic. We’ve designed targeted trainings through our News Entrepreneur Academy that cohort members can access on-demand, with occasional live sessions organized in response to their right-now needs. Our hope is this will give publishers more flexibility to absorb content and apply those learnings on their own time.
Coaching can effectively bridge the gap between learning and doing
We know that on-demand curriculum can help make these best practices for building a sustainable news business more accessible. But we also know that the pain point for many news leaders isn’t necessarily learning a new skill or approach — it’s figuring out how to apply it to their unique organization. No two news businesses are exactly alike, and context matters when it comes to translating a best practice into an actual practice. Coaching is the critical link that helps publishers incorporate their newfound knowledge into their big-picture and day-to-day efforts, and our program design will make that relationship even more explicit.
Clear deliverables — and the funding to implement them — are crucial
Boosting and individualizing a critical entrepreneurial skill is all very well and good, but all too often, the fruits of those efforts still end up feeling theoretical. That’s why each Lab is designed around a specific deliverable that will not only represent a direct and practical application of the curriculum and coaching, but will also be relevant long after the program ends. For example, the Managing Money & Risk Lab will point toward developing a financial plan, and the Planning for Revenue Growth Lab will focus on assessing a specific opportunity and creating a revenue plan to address it. What’s more, we know it’s important to continue to ensure that program participants have the financial means to act on what they’re learning, which is why each Lab offers funding to help cover the cost of producing those deliverables.
How to apply for the 2022 GNI Startups Labs
Applications for all three Labs are open until Monday, August 8 at 5 p.m. Eastern Time. Read our FAQ below for more details on the programs, eligibility, funding and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What will each 2022 GNI Startups Lab cover and what are the associated deliverables?
Startups Lab 1: Managing Money and Risk
Timeline: Sept. 5-Oct. 28
- Navigating risk and uncertainty
- Financial management
- Setting goals
- Developing key business and financial documents
- Planning for the future
- Financial plan
- Essential documents checklist or risk mitigation plan
Startups Lab 2: Building and Managing a Team
Timeline: Sept. 26-Nov. 18
- Developing a staffing plan
- Knowing when you can hire a new team member
- Hiring a new team member
- Onboarding a new hire
- Developing key employment policies and processes
- Addressing and avoiding burnout
- Management best practices
- Staffing plan
- Employee handbook
Startups Lab 3: Planning for revenue growth
Timeline: Oct. 17-Dec. 9
- Opportunity sizing
- Market and audience research
- Financial planning
- Setting goals
- Building revenue operations
- Planning for the future
- Revenue operations checklist
- Revenue plan
What exactly does each Lab entail?
Over the course of eight weeks, you’ll receive:
- On-demand training via LION’s News Entrepreneur Academy
- Synchronous coaching sessions
- Synchronous cohort touch points and responsive training
- Direct funding to cover the cost of creating each Lab’s key deliverables
How much funding is available for each Lab?
- Managing Money and Risk: USD $5,000 per publication
- Building and Managing a Team: USD $10,000 per publication
- Planning for Revenue Growth: USD $15,000 per publication
Am I eligible to apply?
We require that your publication:
- Is based in the U.S. or Canada
- Is independently owned and operated. (This can include public media if the public media is merged with an independent publication and the two are independently run and funded; This can include college-based publications if they are independently run and/or funded.)
- Produces original content that is primarily on a digital platform(s)
- Has been operating for at least six months, and no more than 5 years
- Earns less than USD $500,000 per year in gross revenue
- Can demonstrate some successes on the path to sustainability, i.e. increased site visits, a growing membership program or increased earned revenue
- Focuses on one or more of the following: public interest journalism, filling an information gap, serving a geographic-bound or single subject community, serving an underserved community, exploring new ways to deliver and/or monetize information
Do I have to be a LION member to apply?
No. The 2022 GNI Startups Labs are open to any news business that meets the eligibility requirements. However, once accepted, you must apply to become a LION member before the program starts. All accepted participants of the Labs will be given a free one-year membership to LION Publishers. If you are already a LION member, we will comp your next year’s membership. Apply here.
Can I participate in more than one program?
No. You can only participate in one program so we can support as many news businesses as possible.
Can I apply to more than one program?
Yes. We are accepting applications to all three programs at the same time. You can let us know in the application if you’d like to be considered for multiple programs, and the order in which you’d prefer them.
How many applicants will be accepted?
We will accept 16 news businesses into each of the three Labs, for a total of 48 news businesses served.
How will you evaluate applications?
We’ll evaluate applications based on whether there is a clear and strong case for why your organization is in a good position to benefit from the program and how it will contribute to your strategic goals. We’ll be prioritizing organizations with the highest needs related to each topic to ensure as many LION members as possible are able to take advantage of at least one Lab this year. Finally, we always strive to serve a variety of organizations across size, geography, tax structure and audiences served.
What if I’m not accepted? Can LION still help me strengthen my news business in these areas?
All trainings we develop for these three Labs will be available to all LION members on-demand through our News Entrepreneur Academy.
Still have questions? Reach out to Andrew Rockway, LION’s program manager, at [email protected].
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