Introducing the 24 news businesses in our second Google News Initiative Startups Boot Camp

We’ll help these teams launch publications that directly meet their audience’s needs, particularly in underserved communities

September 15, 2021 by Lisa Heyamoto

Copy of 2021 Boot Camp Cohort

From upper left: Henri Gendreau, Irene McKisson,John Reid, Kelly Kultys, Makeda Easter, Ben Bowman, Kiki B., Megan Stokes, Mariela Santos-Muñiz, Brandy Mitchell, Cadence Bambenek, Erika Hobbs, Becky Pallack, DaLyah Jones, Chris Murray, Iza Montalvo, Renata Hill, Catherine Hollingsworth Hamm, Jessica Cohen, Andrew Weiler, Alicia Benjamin, Gabriela Barzallo, Delonte Harrod, Sam Hoisington and Hayley Sperling

What does it take to launch a digital news startup? A great idea, yes. A deep understanding of your audience’s needs, absolutely. Grit and commitment, without a doubt. 

At LION Publishers, we’ve found that another key ingredient to taking a news business from idea to execution is when founders have access to the guidance, tools and strategies that help them launch with confidence and build sustainably.

Our GNI Startups Boot Camp will provide that support over the course of an eight-week program. Together with the Google News Initiative, we’re delighted to announce the 24 teams in our second cohort serving U.S.-based founders. (We’ll open applications for our Canada boot camp later this month).

“Having spent weeks obsessing over every detail of each team’s project idea and goals for the boot camp experience, I am beyond excited to get everyone together for our kick-off session and to start everyone’s journey toward a launch or growth moment,” said Boot Camp Director Phillip Smith.

The entrepreneurs behind these ambitious projects will receive training and coaching to help them launch sustainable news businesses that serve their communities. They were selected by an independent panel of judges based on their compelling ideas, potential to make a strong impact and commitment to making their publications financially sustainable. 

“The LION/GNI boot camp has been pivotal to the development of my media startup and my growth as a founder,” said Travers Johnson, founder of Queerency and a member of the 2020 cohort. “The instruction is enlightening; the coaching is propelling; the access to resources, generous; and the community is both inspiring and supportive. My company is better because of this boot camp—and so am I.”

About the 2021 cohort:

  • 18 publications will focus on a local or regional audience; 6 will focus on a demographic or identity-based audience
  • 22 publications will explicitly serve an underrepresented or marginalized audience that doesn’t often see itself reflected in the media
  • 64% of participants identify as a person of color or as coming from an underrepresented or marginalized background
  • The 24 publications will serve audiences in 17 U.S. states and Puerto Rico
  • 68% of participants identify as women; 32% identify as men
  • 20 publications will be run by solopreneurs; 4 will operate as teams of two
  • 16 publications haven’t launched yet; 8 are in the process of testing their idea or have very recently launched
The 24 publications in this year’s cohort will serve audiences in 17 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.

Meet the 24 teams in the cohort:


Based in: Franktown, Colorado

Description: A solutions-based, data-informed news site and newsletter for Coloradoans living with mental health issues.

Founder: Renata Hill

Arizona Local Post (working name)

Based in: Tucson, Arizona

Description: An independent, nonprofit newsroom that strengthens civic participation by making news relevant, helpful and accessible for all Arizonans — not just those in the biggest cities.

Founders: Irene McKisson, Dianna Náñez and Becky Pallack


Based in: Guayanilla, Puerto Rico

Description: Quality journalism that informs people in different ways, and at the same time, expands ideas and moves beyond stereotypes. An English and Spanish platform that covers arts, culture and more, with a focus on the Puerto Rican diaspora and the Puerto Ricans on the island. 

Founder: Mariela Santos-Muñiz

Coastal Connecticut Times

Based in: Norwalk, Connecticut

Description: An independent news outlet that serves Lower Fairfield County residents through investigative and explanatory journalism to help them better understand what is happening in their communities and why it matters. 

Founder: Kelly Kultys


Based in: Nacogdoches, Texas

Description: COLLAB is a movement journalism initiative working to survey communities across Texas about their information needs, train communities on how to combat disinformation, reach out to newsrooms and help community members tell their own stories. 

Founder: DaLyah Jones


Based in: Augusta, Georgia

Description: CSRA Now is an online hyperlocal publication that highlights the best of CSRA! We desire to connect our locals to local businesses, organizations and places that expand their experience with the Savannah River Region. 

Founder: Brandy Mitchell


Based in: Charlotte, North Carolina

Description: A digital news outlet that will give marginalized people in Charlotte information on how they can become more actively engaged in the community to help make changes in the policies that affect their everyday lives. 

Founder: Alicia Benjamin


Based in: New York, New York

Description: A publication that will cover current issues in Ecuador in English and Spanish for the Ecuadorian diaspora in the U.S. and beyond.

Founder: Gabriela Barzallo

Hope News

Based in: The Southeast

Description: A publication to educate, uplift and entertain the community where African-Americans and people of color have been overlooked and stereotyped in the media. We want to share the positive side of life by celebrating what makes us unique and similar. 

Founder: Kiki B.

Hothouse Solutions

Based in: Remote

Description: Simple climate action in your inbox: There is no single solution to climate change, but there are many.

Founder: Cadence Bambenek 

Madison Minutes

Based in: Madison, Wisconsin

Description: Your connection to all things Madison, Wisconsin. Our daily morning newsletter covers news + events in the area.

Founders: Sam Hoisington and Hayley Sperling

Olan Media

Based in: Orlando, Florida 

Description: A Spanish-language digital platform dedicated to exploring the powerful identity, politics, culture and gender inequality of U.S. Latinas. 

Founder: Iza Montalvo


Based in: Portland, Oregon

Description: Oregon360 is a modern digital media company that efficiently provides high-value information and analysis on Oregon politics, government, campaigns, and elections while building an engaged community of civic-minded members.

Founder: Ben Bowman

Oviedo Community News

Based in: Oviedo, Florida

Description: Oviedo Community News is an independent, digital, nonprofit newsroom focused on issues that matter to Greater Oviedo and Winter Springs, creating a better informed, more engaged community. 

Founder: Megan Stokes

PW Perspective

Based in: Dumfries, Virginia

Description: The PW Perspective is Virginia’s anti-racist publication that reports on issues within the Black and Brown community. 

Founder: John Reid

Name Forthcoming

Based in: Providence, Rhode Island

Description: A journalistic publication produced for and by the BIPOC community of Rhode Island focused on providing coverage and community-specific information currently ignored by major news sources. 

The 394 (working name)

Based in: Chicago Heights, IL

Description: The 394 is a fiercely independent, nonprofit news site that reimagines local news for people in suburban and rural communities, particularly people of color and those who live in poverty and in news deserts. 

Founder: Erika Hobbs

the art rebellion

Based in: Los Angeles, CA

Description: the art rebellion is a platform and resource centering radical artists working in underreported communities across the U.S. 

Founder: Makeda Easter

The Bowie Sun

Based in: Bowie, Maryland

Description: The Bowie Sun was created to continue the tradition of community news in the city of Bowie, where student journalists from nearby Bowie State University will have the opportunity to report on local government and other happenings in this Washington, DC suburb.

Founders: Catherine Hollingsworth Hamm and Chris Murray

The Intersection 

Based in: Prince George’s County, Maryland 

Description: The Intersection Magazine is a for-profit, independent digital news organization. This local news organization covers religion, technology, and politics in Prince George’s County, Maryland. 

Founder: Delonte Harrod 

The Roanoke Rambler

Based in: Roanoke, Virginia

Description: The Roanoke Rambler is a local, investigative and literary newsletter and website based in Roanoke, Virginia.

Founder: Henri Gendreau

Tri-State Lookout

Based in: Port Jervis, NY

Description: The Tri-State Lookout covers Port Jervis, NY, and surrounding towns in a hyperlocal way, including government, education, business, public health, environment, culture, personalities and events — and also organizes events to address local issues.

Founder: Jessica Cohen 

Wahkiakum Information & News Gathering Society (W.I.N.G.S.)

Based in: Cathlamet, WA

Description: Wahkiakum Information & News Gathering Society (W.I.N.G.S.) helps local residents who want to stay connected and involved in the community by streamlining the delivery of local content and by involving residents in the process. 

Founder: Andrew Weiler

*One additional startup is remaining in stealth mode for now. 

The GNI and LION would like to thank our panel of judges who were instrumental in selecting the cohort. They are: Jiquanda Johnson from Flint Beat, Timothy Karr from Free Press, Andrew Wicken and Ashley Woods Branch from the Google News Initiative, Max Resnik and Shannan Bowen from News Product Alliance, Travers Johnson from Queerency and Bonnie Martinez from Venture for America.

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