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January 03 2012


How We Created a Startup Culture at ASU's Cronkite School

It was a few days before the end of the fall 2011 semester, and a friend at a small southern university was bemoaning the lack of innovative spirit among her students. She'd built in an entrepreneurial module into her class, but only a small percentage of the students took the bait to even try to come up with a business idea.


By contrast, on that very same day, my office was buzzing with students seemingly in no hurry to pack up for the holidays and head home. And, interestingly, only one of them was my actual student. One was a Cronkite School of Journalism freshman who had heard me speak to her class and wanted to run an idea past me. A Cronkite sophomore had a major media company interested in a Microsoft Word plug-in he had come up with and wanted to make sure it was actually doable. Another was a business major at Arizona State University's Carey School who needed some advice on developing an iPad application that he got $5,000 in seed money to build. An ASU engineering major wanted to make sure he could get on my schedule before the end of the year to talk through plans for his new business for the coming year.

As I was looking into the earnest faces of the students who paraded in and out of my office that day, with their Power Point presentations and legal yellow pads filled with sketches for their big ideas, I thought about what made the difference between my friend's institution of higher education and my own.

encouraging innovation

At ASU, innovation and entrepreneurship are being pushed everywhere you go. Funding contests abound such as the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative, which funds up to $20,000 per student team; the ASU Innovation Challenge, in which each student team can win up to $10,000 for an idea; the Performing Arts Venture Experience gives away up to $5,000 for student ideas, and the new 10,000 Solutions provides up to $10,000 to fund good ideas from students, staff, faculty and community members on how to impact local and global communities.

Additionally, Cronkite School students (and faculty) are encouraged to submit ideas for Knight News Challenge and J-Lab Women Entrepreneurs grants, and those winners are heralded as much as winners of journalism contests.

Professors at Cronkite and other schools bake pitch session into their syllabi so students are thinking of the practical as well as the theoretical. I recently sat in on a pitch session at the College of Nursing and Health Innovation where nutrition and health majors were trying to answer two questions with fresh ideas: How do we get Americans to drink more water, and how do we get sedentary office workers to move more?

The university also tries to make it easier for like-minded entrepreneurs to find each other. Each of the four ASU campuses have Changemaker Centers where students from different majors can hang out and kick around the "what if" questions. I've always kept an open door policy at my own lab, Cronkite's Digital Media and Entrepreneurship Lab, where students from any major can pop in to talk, and they do. In the past academic year, I've helped a public policy major think through an iPhone app to help track lost pets and a social work major create a proposal for a volunteer matching site for high school students and non-profits. Journalists for local media companies stop by to hash out ideas as well, and I am really excited about a couple of projects in the works.

University President Michael Crow employs Entrepreneurs-in-Residence who help student startups get their footing but who also help faculty working on innovation and entrepreneurship at such a large university find and support each other. It helps that professors at the College of Technology and Innovation know that I'm looking for Objective C engineers to hire or that faculty at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning might be interested in collaborating on a mapping project.

like minds unite

Lastly, like minds like being around each other. At Cronkite, we've hosted News Foo for two years running, and a fall Where Camp attracted several dozens of data nerds for a weekend hack fest. Cronkite students are encouraged to attend local startup weekends around the area and conferences out at the university's Sky Song business incubator. It was at such a startup weekend last spring that one of my graphic design students hacked together his latest venture that is attracting angel investments; a few weeks ago, he dropped out of school to move to Silicon Valley to give it a try.

Several adjunct professors at Cronkite are working on startups, and the school employs both a technologist-in-residence and an entrepreneur-in-residence. Next door to my lab, a startup Network, Magicdust Television, has launched a hybrid digital media/television show called RightThisMinute that is produced in the Cronkite building and employs Cronkite students.

So it's no wonder that a lot of students at Cronkite and other ASU schools have the entrepreneurship bug, and especially a penchant for social entrepreneurship. Yeah, it's a cold, cruel world and a god-awful economy, but the message over here, at least, is that such a reality only provides another opportunity to do something about it.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Nick Bastian.

September 15 2011


Inside the Globe Lab: how to make the Boston Globe’s two-site strategy work

Niemanlab :: Why exactly does The Boston Globe need a lab? Most newspapers aren’t known for spending a lot of resources on R&D. In an era where money is tight and newsrooms have shrunk, why exactly does The Boston Globe need a lab? Of course, that question answers itself — it’s precisely because the traditional business model is in such disarray that it makes sense to invest in ideas that could turn into something bigger. In order for BostonGlobe.com and Boston.com to grow and thrive as online properties, the Globe is counting on its lab to create the kind of products and ideas that will help each site succeed.

What are they working on? 

Continue to read Justin Ellis, www.niemanlab.org

September 16 2010


Does journalism need a fail whale?

I thought about the title of this post as I was reading around about the recent update to twitter has caused a flurry of posts outlining what it will mean for journalists.

Over at the Nieman Lab Megan Garber ponders what the new twitter might mean for networked journalism. They make a good point about how this might be effected by “Twitterers, end-user innovation-style”.

But she ultimately concludes that:

The Twitter.com of today, as compared to the Twitter.com of yesterday, is much more about information that’s meaningful and contextual and impactful. Which is to say, it’s much more about journalism.

You could take a view that she means twitter has now become more useful to journalism. But I have to ask how much journalism is ready to take advantage of what it has to offer.

In amongst the early comment I particularly liked Laura Olivers pondering on what the new features could offer:

I can also see clever journalists using the embedded feature to tease stories with video snippets and by giving their Twitter audience more content encourage those followers to visit a news site and engage there too

I love that idea. But how many newsrooms are ready to take advantage of it.

It’s easy to dismiss putting time in to getting your multimedia on twitter as a waste of time. Like the ipad, it’s easy to dismiss things like twitters new features as gadgets and technology that get in the way of proper journalism.

But experimenting with getting a video on to twitter is not about video on twitter. That’s the easy (now easier bit). It’s about exploring if you have the capacity to do video at all. Just like exploring delivery of content to the ipad is a way to experiment with html5. Hell, if nothing else it’s a convenient excuse to try.

If you don’t take the opportunity to experiment then you will find that you have less of a capacity to do produce the content your audience will want and no ability to chase them as they migrate to platforms that do.

When they come to you, you may as well have the newsroom fail whale up: “Sorry we are over capacity”

Real capacity

Maybe we should be more honest about what we can and can’t do. Be more bullish about what we do well. Perhaps we should get over wanting to chase them everywhere (or corral them in one place behind a paywall).

Or maybe we should take advantage of the free, open and engaged platforms to see just what capacity we really have.

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