How you can help the 2021 GNI Startups Boot Camp news businesses
These 23 news startups are looking to build their audiences, grow their revenue, and level up their operations in 2022.
In our second annual Google News Initiative Startups Boot Camp, aspiring and early-stage news entrepreneurs pitched news business ideas to serve communities and topics across the United States. The ideas ranged in scope and focus, but all the founders had one thing in common: a commitment to designing for their audiences’ needs first.
After eight weeks of intensive work, 23 boot camp projects (led by 31 individuals) are ready to launch or grow with the training and coaching they received from boot camp founder and director Phillip Smith, independent consultant Jo Ellen Green Kaiser and News Revenue Hub’s Graham Watson Ringo.
“Each of these individuals demonstrated time and time again that they’ve got the moxie and grit to be successful digital news entrepreneurs,” said Phillip Smith, director of the boot camp. “I can’t wait to watch them continue to grow over the next twelve months.”
Upon completing the program, the Google News Initiative also made additional funding available for boot camp graduates to invest in growing their startups.
“The innovative news offerings developed during this year’s GNI Startups Bootcamp reinforce the bright possibilities for news entrepreneurs to engage communities and build business models in new ways,” said Conor Crowley, lead of the GNI Startups Program. “I’m very excited to follow how the participants continue to meet unmet information needs and contribute to building a more sustainable future for digital journalism.”
Learn more about each of the projects below, and if you’re interested in supporting their work, reach out to them. Congratulations to all these independent news business founders:
BoriMás is the go-to site for fresh and relevant Puerto Rican arts and culture news, on and off the island; meeting Boris where they are.
Founder: Mariela Santos-Muñiz
Based in: Puerto Rico
Immediate next steps: My goals are to reach at least 1,000 Instagram followers in the next year of operation, to create opportunities for freelancers to report on Bori arts and culture, and to focus on underreported and underrepresented communities.
How you can help: Help with this venture can be as simple as following and sharing the Instagram page. Beyond that, connections with interested parties and funding would be helpful as well.
The Bowie Sun
The Bowie Sun is a free, online newspaper focused on city government and neighborhood news in Bowie, Maryland.
Founder: Catherine Hollingsworth (Adviser: Chris Murray)
Based in: Lanham, Maryland
Immediate next steps: The Bowie Sun website is set to launch in early 2022.
How you can help: Bowie area residents, please encourage your friends to sign up for The Bowie Sun and follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Also consider sharing our landing page with supporters of local journalism. Thank you.
The Charlotte Voice
The Charlotte Voice gives you the news you need to make a change for yourself and your community.
Founder: Alicia Benjamin
Based in: Charlotte, North Carolina
Immediate next steps: I’m currently posting news, information, and resources for the community to The Charlotte Voice’s Twitter and Instagram pages to grow my audience and to let the community know what my news outlet is about. My immediate goals are to grow our social media audience and build our list of email subscribers to 300 by March 2022. I’m also researching different content management systems and designs for the digital news website that I plan to launch in the future.
How you can help: Follow The Charlotte Voice on Twitter and Instagram sign up on our landing page, and please give feedback and share with friends. Also, please send ideas on ways to engage with the community and build subscribers to [email protected]
Citizen Grit publishes crucial stories for Chicago Heights, Ill. that hold the powerful accountable, highlight the voices of everyday folks and dive deep to tell you not just what happened, but what to do about it.
Founder: Erika Hobbs
Based in: Chicago, Illinois
Immediate next steps: I’ll publish more stories, test content delivery systems (email vs. SMS), and hire a Spanish translator for marketing materials and stories. Finally, I’ll experiment with publishing a small newspaper to see if print best suits the needs of advertisers and readers. I plan a three-month testing period. I’ll measure email and SMS in English by number of sign ups in a seven-day timeframe. I’d like to hit 100. I’ll do the same for Spanish. I’m continuing to talk to area businesses and residents to determine needs.
How you can help: I need funding. We all know journalism isn’t free, and if I want the Grit to work — and my gut tells me it will — then I need compensation to focus on this solely. I need seed money to purchase advertising and tools. I need connections to help me with that and to coach me through learning how to be a publisher. I also could use help designing tests to decide what works for my audience and which metrics to use. Thank you.
Coastal Connecticut Times
Coastal Connecticut Times is a regional news site in southwest CT that aims to help residents understand what’s happening in their communities and why.
Founder: Kelly Kultys
Based in: Norwalk, Connecticut
Immediate next steps: The Coastal Connecticut Times landing page launched on Dec. 1. We are looking to continue to gain subscribers to our free weekly newsletter, with a goal of 100 email subscribers by Dec. 14. After that, we plan to publish our first newsletter before the end of the year and officially launch our website, which will feature original reporting and local government guides, in early 2022.
How you can help: I would love for you to sign up for our newsletter, and if you have connections in the southwestern CT area, please pass those on and help me get the word out about Coastal Connecticut Times.
CSRA Now enhances the quality of life of local explorers by connecting them with their community and providing them with local information they can use!
Founder: Brandy Mitchell
Based in: Augusta, Georgia
Immediate next steps: Build site by mid-January; launch site in Spring 2022; hire freelancer by end of December.
How you can help: Funding and newsroom/management coaching.
Mindset News is a nonprofit news site dedicated to nurturing and normalizing mental health through inclusive, accessible journalism.
Founder: Renata Hill
Based in: Elizabeth, Colorado
Immediate next steps: Soft launch our landing page and experiment with email management using Patreon, with the goal of achieving a 1-2% conversion rate by January 1.
How you can help: Please DO SUBSCRIBE to Mindset News! I could also use help identifying possible Advisory Board members with various areas of expertise, and funding for website design.
Olán Media produces high-quality multimedia content in Spanish-language and creates programs to help break the Latina ceiling.
Founder: Iza Montalvo
Based in: Orlando, Florida
Immediate next steps: Hire content producer and writers.
How you can help: Follow us on social media and send us referrals of feminist Latina writers.
The Optimist produces solution-focused stories on the environment, business and social problems in greater Minnesota and provides training to bolster community journalism and media literacy.
Founder: Nora G. Hertel
Based in: St. Michael, Minnesota
Immediate next steps: I plan to launch in early 2022 with a newsletter, and I will fundraise to cover the creation and launch of The Optimist’s website within the year. I expect to end 2022 with 1,000 (or more!) people on our mailing list and enough funding to hire two full-time staff in 2023.
How you can help: Right now I’m developing my editorial and business strategy. I’m building a reader advisory board and business advisory board. I need to connect with readers, freelance journalists and other professionals in Minnesota who want to help bring The Optimist to fruition. I also need to raise $10,000 to cover my 2022 budget, which I will do through grants, ads and donations.
Rhode Island in Color
Rhode Island in Color is a newsroom dedicated to covering the BIPOC community in Rhode Island.
Founders: Frank Maradiaga and Lindsay Bartholomew
Based in: Providence, Rhode Island
Immediate next steps: We will launch the website in early 2022 with an initial offering of content and then build in scope. We are attempting to get this first batch of content to community leaders and stakeholders and use their contacts to reach more of our core audience. We hope to solidify that reach through partnerships.
How you can help: We are open to all forms of help. Given that our working-class community will need to see proof that our publication is worth their membership dollars, funding for our initial months will be important. However, if you would like to help us grow our free subscriptions, that would also be very helpful. Plus, we would welcome honest feedback and any suggestions.
Tri-State Lookout invigorates constructive action and interaction with community information and events in Port Jervis, NY, and surrounding towns in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Founder: Jessica Cohen
Based in: Milford, Pennsylvania
Immediate next steps: By next July, our goal is to generate at least $40,000 annually to support my full-time work on the Lookout and pay for two freelance articles weekly as well as a marketing specialist.
How you can help: I would welcome information about sources of funding for hyperlocal news in small cities and rural areas. Feedback about the Lookout and its capacity to engage a broad audience would also be welcome.
W.I.N.G.S. enables residents of SW Washington to support and get engaged in their community and schools by delivering an all-in-one resource newsletter.
Founder: Andrew Weiler
Based in: Southwest Washington
Immediate next steps: Growing our free subscription audience and focusing on retention. We are still working on designing a product that is more than ideal for our primary audience, so we will continue to perform user and design research.
How you can help: Marketing strategies, welcoming/onboarding strategies, and stewardship campaigns.
Arizona Luminaria is a nonprofit news organization dedicated to local civic news.
Founders: Irene McKisson, Dianna Náñez, Becky Pallack
Based in: Tucson, Arizona
Immediate next steps: Our goal is to build a seed fund to give us enough runway to build a loyal audience. We plan to raise $650,000 and have raised $176,000 so far. We need the seed funding to pay for journalists and marketing to attract readers.
How you can help: We need connections to and funding from major donors, foundations, and corporate sponsors. We are also looking for board members. Thank you for your help and support!
EcuaDiaspora is a multimedia platform and newsletter that aims to provide news about Ecuador and the Ecuadorian diaspora in the U.S. and beyond in English and Spanish.
Founder: Gabriela Barzallo
Based in: New York, New York
Immediate next steps: Launching our newsletter (Ecuadpate), launching our website (Ecuadiaspora), and producing our first 10 multimedia stories.
How you can help: Funding and investing opportunities; grant opportunities; connections with Ecuadorians in the U.S.; mentorship and feedback.
HotHouse Solutions: Most climate stories are doom and gloom; Hothouse offers solutions: Original climate journalism you’ll really want to read, with a plan for action.
Founders: Michael Coren, Cadence Bambenek and Jemima Kiss
Based in: Michael Coren and Jemima Kiss are based in San Francisco, California; Cadence Bambenek is based in New York, New York.
Immediate next steps: Our next steps are focused on increasing marketing and outreach efforts to expand Hothouse’s readership. We would like to see our readership growth rate double again within the next four months, as it has done the last four months.
How you can help: Hothouse is looking for advisors invested in Hothouse’s mission and capable of contributing efforts to fundraise and make connections that could help grow Hothouse and get our publication in front of the right eyes.
The Intersection Magazine is a digital publication that covers local politics and religion in Prince George’s County, Maryland.
Founder: Delonte Harrod
Based in: Maryland/Washington, D.C.
Immediate next steps: Build an authentic community by meeting with people in-person, and create a product that everyone in the community can use. I’ll do this by reaching out to local civic organizations, applying for grants, running social ads and in-person events to get at least 200 newsletter signups, and nail down an advertising/sponsorship/paid content strategy.
How you can help: For me, feedback is always valuable. Connections are always valuable. I like talking to people who have done this work. Opportunities to get funding are always helpful as well.
Madison Minutes is your connection to all things Madison, Wisconsin.
Founder: Sam Hoisington and Hayley Sperling
Based in: Madison, Wisconsin
Immediate next steps: We are growing our email list, which is at 6,000 email subscribers, and producing a high-quality daily newsletter. So far, we have sold around $5,000 in advertising, and we have about 85 members who support our work.
How you can help: We have a solid editorial product going, but need funding to expand our capacities on both the business side and editorial side of Madison Minutes.
Oregon 360 is a modern digital media company that provides valuable information on Oregon politics, government, campaigns, and elections.
Founder: Ben Bowman
Based in: Oregon
Immediate next steps: Have our first full-time, paid staff member by the end of 2022. We also want to double our audience and double our ARR by the end of 2022 so that we are well-positioned to grow rapidly into the future, potentially expanding our product offering to attract more members.
How you can help: We are looking for grants, sponsorships, and other financial support to help us grow more quickly. We also appreciate introductions to any Oregon-based companies or individuals who might be interested in supporting our work. Please feel free to subscribe to our newsletter and download our podcast (The Bridge by OR360 Media) to follow along!
Oviedo Community News
Oviedo Community News is an independent nonprofit newsroom that provides important local information, helping readers feel connected to where they live and empowered to shape their community.
Founders: Megan Stokes, Isaac Babcock, Jenny Babcock, and Alex Babcock
Based in: Oviedo and Winter Springs, Florida
Immediate next steps: Our goal is to build our sponsorships to four per month in order to fund our newsroom. We’ve doubled our newsletter readership since launch, so we’re aiming for 2,000 signups over this next year. We’ll get there by attending local events, using Google and Facebook ads and developing a habit of consistent social media engagement.
How you can help: Funding and subscribing with feedback would both be very helpful. We’re looking for funding to hire a freelance reporter to help us create explainer series for our readers. These series are in line with our mission to engage readers civically. I would love feedback based on our content and messaging.
PW Perspective provides news coverage and resources for Prince William County’s marginalized communities.
Founder: John Reid
Based in: Dumfries, Virginia
Immediate next steps: Our immediate goal is to have 1,000 newsletter subscribers by January 2022, with 2.5% of those subscribers becoming paid members who receive our exclusive content. We will also continue to work on creating the Business Crossing Network directory and increasing our marketing strategy via paid social media campaigns.
How you can help: We need assistance with funding and feedback for our marketing efforts.
The Roanoke Rambler
The Roanoke Rambler is a local, investigative and literary newsletter and website based in Roanoke, Virginia.
Founder: Henri Gendreau
Based in: Roanoke, Virginia
Immediate next steps: Our goal is to net 200 paying subscribers by the end of 2021 (we are currently at 183) and to exceed 400 paying subscribers by the 12-month mark (with a high goal of closer to 500). We will do this by continuing our outreach efforts (such as an upcoming holiday festival); connecting with potential large-donors to fund a new reporter position; and continuing to improve our technology to be more user-friendly.
How you can help: Connections and funding are very much appreciated. We are hoping to secure a couple large donations (in the amount of $5,000 or so) so that we can embark on an MOU with a nonprofit that serves as a fiscal sponsor for these types of projects. With this funding, our hope is that we will be able to compensate a reporter with roughly $10,000 out of $50,000 compensation, with the remaining $40,000 coming from large donors giving tax-deductible gifts to the nonprofit.
the art rebellion
the art rebellion is a platform and resource centering artist-activists across the U.S.
Founder: Makeda Easter
Based in: Los Angeles, California
Immediate next steps: I plan to launch officially in December with an interview with Lady D, a folk musician in West Virginia. My goal is to reach 500 Instagram followers in a month, and about 5,000 followers in 6 months. I’d also like to reach 1,000 email subscribers in the next 6 months. Over that period, I plan to publish regularly and build up a network of artist activists, and I’d like to partner with arts nonprofits and arts media groups to lead several workshops.
How you can help: I am most in need of funding. My target audience for the art rebellion are the artists, who are so important in our society, but who are also drastically underpaid and struggling to make ends meet.
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