Class of '09 Students Receive Seed Money for Innovative Businesses

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

By Craig Thompson
Class of 2008

A journalistic tour through the origins of our clothing, a web application to filter Internet links, a mobile phone app for sports fans, and a place where editors can connect with reporters and citizen journalists.

On December 9th, these projects, hashed out during Prof. Jeff Jarvis’ third-semester Entrepreneurial Journalism class, were the recipients of $57,000 in grant money provided by the McCormick Foundation. A 16-member jury consisting of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and media veterans chose the winners from among 15 projects vying for a cut of the funds. All the students had to develop a product, do a competitive analysis, present cost estimates, and develop marketing, revenue, and launch plans.

“This will make me put my money where my mouth is,” said Jenni Avins, whose ClosetTour fashion project garnered $9,000. “And after months – years! – of talking about this, I can’t wait to get started.”

Avins will use the seed money to film webisodes about domestic clothing production and research long-form stories on the topic to pitch to magazines. ClosetTour aims to look at the clothes from a whole industry perspective, and Avins will undertake investigative pieces exploring factories, designers, and other key elements of the fashion business. “I’ll be able to make ClosetTour the organizing principle of my zany freelance career in the months to come, and maybe feel like a little less of a crazy person for it,” she said.

Collin Orcutt’s $20,000 award will help him build a prototype of an interactive mobile app for sports enthusiasts, the details of which he is still working out. “Journalism is really fluid, especially now that people can collectively converse,” he said. “That’s where I see the journalism in this – to give people a place where they can interact.”

Indrani Datta won $13,000 to start building a software engine for her project to help organize links that come through social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. “My project is an ambitious thinking exercise, working out a philosophical idea through technology,” she said. “Since I’m making it up as I go along, it’s really helpful to be able to dedicate myself to it full time.”

Ben Fractenberg and Mariana Vasconcellos will apply their $15,000 prize toward in-depth market research for their Local Desk platform, investigating how editors can connect with reporters and citizen journalists to cover stories that they post on a virtual assignment desk.

Jarvis recognized that the class incubator included a wide variety of worthy proposals. “We saw a very enthusiastic group of students who are very passionate about their ideas, and they are seeing trends in media ahead of media – including the need to curate and filter information,” he noted.

Among the other pitches were an aggregator of Bay Area Latino news; a daily e-newsletter geared to Wall Street investors covering Chinese stocks and markets; a Brooklyn-based site offering diabetes information; a site that would provide news in a comic book format; a disseminator of safety and health information for women traveling abroad, and a multimedia training project for news gathering organizations worldwide.

This was the third year of the class and the competition. Among winners from the Class of 2008, Joe Filippazzo, who was awarded $30,000 a year ago, has seen his physics site, now called Knotebooks, move deep into development. “It’s been an invaluable kick start,” Filippazzo said. “It’s allowed us to take a passion project and very humbly turn the seed of an idea into something that bears fruit.”