Week One: The Irish Times Digital Challenge

I PREVIOUSLY POSTED THIS ON THE HUFFINGTON POST. RE POSTED HERE. Some months ago I set up The Irish Times Digital Challenge to invite digital entrepreneurs to propose ways to work with The Irish Times. Almost 81 early stage digital companies applied, of which 14 were invited to pitch in person. From this a final five of startups were selected to enter the building for eight weeks. I will blog here each week with video updates of the startups progress.

These five startups are working on some of the most challenging issues facing newsrooms and media organizations.

  • One has built a loyal online community around its area of focus, something that The Irish Times has never been able to achieve itself. It has done so gradually and with care, and as a result it has a loyal, active community base. Another has a solution to support amateur photographers — potentially yielding great content for other readers in addition to a regular user base.
  • Another is attempting to solve the “next related link” problem, putting stories on Irishtimes.com into a visual context that attract more readers to click into more stories. A shout out here to Ryan Single of Wired, who is trying something similar. Drawing readers to read related stories in a visually compelling way could increase dwell times on our site, give readers better insight into what they are reading and add to the bottom line.
  • A fourth startup participating in our Digital Challenge has a solution that can potentially end weeks of effort current spent on simple design tasks. For us this means freeing up our print designers to do more interesting things, and it will finally unify print and online production. If this startup manages to deliver on its pitch every major media organisation in the globe will have an interest in working with it.
  • Finally, one of the startups is providing one possible solution to the problem of print-only classifieds. For us, that’s a big problem.

If at the end of the eight week period a startup finds that it can use The Irish Times to reach new customers, then perhaps it will want to do a deal to leverage The Irish Times Group’s several million unique monthly visitors.

And along the way people who work at The Irish Times will gain an insight into the next wave of digital businesses, and the culture of digital startups. NDRC LaunchPad has partnered with The Irish Times to make sure that experience of startups inside The Irish Times is as relevant and useful as possible. LaunchPad was recently ranked the best startup incubator in Ireland, and sixth in Europe, by the Kauffman Foundation. It will provide a structure that will help keep the focus the startups’ path to revenue.

An overall winner will receive a €50,000 convertible loan note from DFJ Esprit, a venture capital firm based in London. The main focus is not, however, to identify one winner, but to develop deep and mutually beneficial relationships with the next wave of digital entrepreneurs shaping the future of our industry.

Some time after our launch the BBC issued a call for its own incubator, with flatteringly similar structure and design. I hope they and we can learn from the digital disruptors.

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