Jun 21, 2012

The MADE UK Weekend for Media Entrepreneurs

The Northern Lights business incubation unit

We have just finished winding up the first MADE UK Weekend for Media Entrepreneurs and the only word that feels appropriate is, Wow.

Forty keen entrepreneurs and coaches descended on UCLan’s Media Factory campus for an intensive 48 hours discussing their own projects and the things we can do to create sustainable journalism businesses. Being in Preston we couldn’t promise great weather but we created a great space where our entrepreneurs could speak freely about their projects and the challenges they face.

We had several top notch coaches to guide participants on the finer points of cash flow, innovation, content strategies, advertising models, community engagement and new technologies.

The days were long and intensive. This was no breezy day conference and networking event. Participants were expected to work, engage and contribute and they certainly rose to the challenge. One of the weekend’s coaches, MADE partner Aine McGuire of Scraperwiki said:

“It’s been amazing. I certainly feel I learnt more from the participants than I was able to give back.”

We were delighted by how much participants shared with each other: WordPress tips and tricks, social media advice, advertising methods. Everyone recognised that the secret to achieving sustainable new media enterprises is by conversation and knowledge transfer. At the end of the weekend when our entrepreneurs gave a five minute pitch of their businesses they invited constructive criticism from our judges and other participants. They got plenty of this but also, overwhelmingly, they were offered advice and suggestions on funding, technology, contacts. The generosity participants showed each other was humbling.

MADE initiator François Nel kicked off the UK’s first weekend workshop aimed specifically at news entrepreneurs by asking: “Why are we here? “

“The short answer, “ he told the 32 nascent and new media entrepreneurs who had come from throughout the UK and as far afield as Italy and Lagos, “is to help you” you. And to learn.”

“How will we know if the Media And Digital Enterprise project has been successful? “
“In the longer term, we would know if the news entrepreneurs manage to not only startup
news enterprise in the public interest, but succeed in creating sustainable thriving enterprises – whether for social, educational or commercial purposes. Or all three.

“Of more immediate focus is you and your experiences over this weekend. For us, success would be measured in a number of ways:
If you manage to test and confirm your strategy against all the Why? What If? What Else? questions we’re going to be asking this weekend. Or if you manage to test your ideas and redirect or pivot your focus. Or if you decide to refocus on an entirely different opportunity – either on your own or in partnership with one or more of the people in this room.”

On Friday evening we kicked off with the intriguing story of Preston’s newspaper wars from UCLan’s Dr Andrew Hobbs followed by Nick Jaspan of How-Do media on his successes, failures and battle stories from media entrepreneurship. Then the ice-breaker task, the point in so many conferences and events when people cringe and get uncomfortable. But under the stewardship of Stuart and Gillian Morris our MADE participants threw themselves into it and created brand new companies, ideas and business models in under an hour.

MADE’s François Nel started off Saturday with a look at what the make-up of a news media start-up is. What makes them different to the established media? Where are the opportunities? What must they do differently? 

Rick Waghorn of Addiply and Arthur Porter of the Business Journals talked about how news start-ups can get their hands on cold, hard cash before fascinating round-table discussions on marketing, money, community and technology.

Aine McGuire and scraping maestro Julian Todd of Scraperwiki looked at how news start-ups can get a competitive advantage on their mainstream rivals by the means of open data. Traditional print media has long monopolised the dissemination of data but through government initiatives and tools like Scraperwiki, news start-ups can get a unique slice of the pie.

Community is vital to any new media company. Whether it’s a community defined by geography or one defined by interests it is important that publishers recognise who their community is and how best they can serve them. This is what Sarah Hartley of Guardian Media Group’s n0tice project shared with us before demonstrating how our participants can use the n0tice journalism toolbox and APIs to create great community content.

The MADE Exchange

In the afternoon our MADE entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to sit down with our coaches and discuss their business ideas and call on their invaluable advice. Of course we ran out of time for these fantastic conversations but rest assured they continued on into the night.

Saturday was a day of ideas and inspiration but Sunday was a day of realities. Peter Rawling of the Northern Lights business incubation unit based at UCLan walked our entrepreneurs step by step through creating a business plan and cash-flow forecast. He was then joined by François Nel to talk about where funding opportunities are and how entrepreneurs can get their hands on some much needed cash.

Taking this on board participants began to craft their final presentations to deliver to the group in the afternoon.

What was delivered were pitches, that while hastily done, were brimming with enthusiasm and optimism. The range of ideas and business on show was truly remarkable. Business and projects tackled issues such as local, environment, travel, black lifestyle, business, niche industries and so many more. We can’t share the details of these businesses but we can share this: if MADE participants can capture the enthusiasm and creativity they demonstrated this weekend and put it into their businesses then we have no doubt of their success.

François Nel quizzes the MADE entrepreneurs

Nel said: “We’ve certainly delighted that we achieved what we set out to do. We’ve also seeded what I certainly hope will become a strong network of entrepreneurs. We’ve even seen some flirting amongst the entrepreneurs. I suspect there’ll be a few co-founder dates over the coming weeks and we may even be able to announce partnership or two.”

Next: The five candidates invited to join the MADE Hothouse, a 12-week business support
programme will be announced on 21 June.

All the participants have been invited to join the MADE Network and to participate in a two-day data journalism camp in September.

The MADE Project will also run in Turkey this autumn