Discussing Ethnic Entrepreneurship

As some of you have guessed, I’m interested in both media and entrepreneurship. That’s the reason why I attended “Ethnic Entrepreneurship & Starting Strong,” a discussion panel organized by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ,) the Tow-Knight Center and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

The panel was composed by Hong Qu, CTO of Fusion Media,  Daniel Bentley, contributing Editor at CircaJuan GuillenFounder & CEO of LatinTrends Magazine and Mariana Marcaletti, founder of Latin American Radar.  The panel was moderated by Chris Dell, cofounder & Editor-in-Chief CUNY Sport Report and Tow-Knight Fellow.

The panel shared insights and key points into the creation of sustainable media projects, as well as talking about their experiences as entrepreneurs. The discussion centered around the use of new technologies and tools to build innovative and efficient news platforms.

“If you want to make money, create something people create a habit from,” said Hong, who worked as Product & UX Lead at Upworthy and YouTube. “Millenias will be consuming media in a very different way, they will use every platform.”

Besides addictiveness, Hong also named content personalization and simplicity and convenience as keys to stronger user/reader/viewer engagement. He believes that if a reader takes more than three clicks or three seconds to get what he wants, he will jump to the next website.

The panelists agreed that online platforms and mobile technology will become even more fundamental to the future of news and information.

“Make it cross-platform, make users embrace new versions of the product, and start building fast and now,” said Dell.

“Capitalize on the time people spend on their phones,” added Bentley. “There you have it, a one on one relationship with your reader…through a phone.”

However, some believe that in order to make a solvent and self-supporting medium, new technology was not the only way to go.

“There are immense opportunities in the digital world, but we also live in an offline world, that’s where print can be powerful,” said Guillen, whose magazine, Latin Trends, focuses on Latino entertainment . “With a magazine, it becomes what coffee is for Starbucks or what a hamburger is for McDonald’s. In our case, print is our tool.” 

Guillen also said that money, although important, should not be the only motivation to create something.

“Money is very important, however is the wrong angle,” he said. “Your main goal is to serve the community better. Money will come later.” 

The event took place at Fox News Latino at Fox News Headquarters. (Of which got a behind the scenes tour and briefly met Fox News anchor Shepard Smith, who is currently in the middle of a controversy.)

I encourage students to participate more in this kind of events, where you can learn not only about the current trends in journalism, media and technology, but also you can network with working journalists and people involved in the industry. (Personally, I do not enjoy networking that much, but I can’t deny it’s extremely beneficial nowadays.)



The Indypendent: News for the people.

Free news. The concept seems as normal today as… wait, nothing is free nowadays! (And if you can have it for free, you are probably the product being sold.)

But what if the meaning of free isn’t ” without cost or payment,” but instead this: “not under the control or in the power of another.”  I believe that’s the idea behind The Indypendent, an online-based and monthly print newspaper based in New York City founded by the New York City Independent Media Center

Written and produced by volunteers and journalists, The Indypendent offers a fresh, non-mainstream look into the news that actually involves and interests people. According to its website, the paper explores “how systems of power — economic, political, and social — affect the lives of people locally and globally. “

Its slogan, “a free paper for free people”,  adheres a libertarian philosophy to The Indypendent‘s mission, which seems to be the root of its success, as the publication has earned more than 50 awards for excellence in journalism, as well as a strong core of supporters and readers all over the nation.

Assuming this unattached ideology to the way news should be approached and communicated is what makes The Indypendent, a particular and interesting publication, especially in an industry that seems to care more about its commercial interests than its social contract with the people.  (Which is not objectivity, according to the renowned philosopher and media critic, Noam Chomsky.)

One of the writers for The Indypendent is Peter Rugh, a self-titled muckraker-at-large, who contributes to other alternative mediums such as VICE and Waging Non-Violence. Rugh’s articles explore a wide range of topics, from the increasing closings of New York City hospitals, the Keystone pipeline controversies, to the wages protests by fast-food workers.

I believe Rugh’s articles are a reflection of the kind of journalism we need to see more of. The ideology than mediums like the ones I mentioned, or the topics that Rugh covers are largely left-leaning, seem ridiculous to me.  Journalists should not forget that advocacy journalism can also be fact-based and have a purpose at the same time.

Because if one lives life with a purpose, why would one write something without it?

A Demo Night for Media Startups

Pizza, soda, and the business of journalism were the glue and motivation behind the media startups demo night organized on March 20 by the Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

With diverse styles and methodologies to the world of publishing, five local startups showed off their latest innovations and projects while briefly talking about the current trends seen in media.

“It is kind of an amazing time to be doing anything related with content, whether you are a journalist or a marketer,” said David Spitz, President and CEO of RebelMouse, an online platform that allows users to combine social media content into their websites. Some of its clients include Time magazine, NBC news reporter Ann Curry and General Electric, among others.

Although demo nights are usually used as platforms to launch new startups and pitch their ideas to investors, this particular event highlighted the work of these young media companies, who are experimenting with business models that are quite different to those used by traditional media.

“Even if people don’t necessarily have to pay for content, if they understand what you are doing and like what you are doing, they will be interested in supporting,” said Thomas Rhiel, founder of BLKNYR, a two-dollar-a-month, subscription-based online publication that creates in-depth and interactive stories about underreported topics, communities and areas of Brooklyn. “People can read about Brooklyn, but I think we have established a voice that people are responding to, ” he also said.

Besides the novelty of these economic models, originality and resourcefulness in regards to content distribution and design were also common traits among the exhibiting startups.

Two of them were: 29th Street Publishing, a magazine publishing company that develops simple-yet-attractive mobile applications for small and freelance writers and independent editors and Howler, a crowdfunded magazine about soccer that is published only four times a year, but that has increased its popularity thanks to its artistic illustrations, a modern design approach, and the use of well-researched articles about the history of the most popular sport in the world.

The innovations presented in areas such as content creation and distribution, businesses and design were also of key interest to those who attended the event.

“It’s amazing how these small startups are using all these modern tools to create beautiful and interesting projects,” said Giancarlo Castiglioni, a graphic design student at Queens College. “Journalism is not my major, but you can really see how these new mediums are working harder and harder to innovate and change the industry. I think it’s somewhat of a revolution.”

Educating Media Startups

Bankrupt newspapers, increasing consolidation and the threat of top-ten lists taking over journalism, have brought a sense of restlessness to the already divisive conversation about the future of the industry.

And with journalism schools trying to keep pace with the changes, some institutions have become experimental grounds for a new type of media, opening channels of innovation and providing young graduates with tools and empowerment to become media entrepreneurs.

“The idea behind our classes is to prepare people to build their own startups successfully,” said Jeremy Caplan, Director of Education at the Tow Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. “But also, we prepare people to be leaders in the new generation of media.”

Created in 2010, the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism offers a Master of Arts and a semester-long Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurial Journalism. The program has become a media incubator for successful projects such as Narrative.ly, a platform specializing in long-form journalism that was named one of the 50 Best Websites of 2013 by TIME magazine.

The center prepares students in areas such as business, marketing, social media and technology immersion. Apprenticeship programs, mentoring and development of each student’s projects are also fundamental, all while keeping track of the innovations in media.

“It’s very exciting to be in one of the golden eras of journalism in terms of the dramatic changes in distribution,” said Caplan. “The capabilities to get great content into the hands of people are becoming very quick, cheap and successful.”

This optimistic school of thought contrasts with the notorious organizational changes seen in traditional companies, who keep reducing staff and cutting budgets. Examples of this include established media companies such as Time Inc., CNN and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., which have had massive layoffs in the last six months alone, according to the Poynter Institute.

However, Caplan believes that this situation can actually benefit those journalists who are able to understand and take advantage of the current situation of the media.

“There is an explosion in opportunities available,” he said. “Part of it is technological, part of it is the changes on how people consume media…the consumer will be less passive and more interactive.”

Exploring and understanding the current trends in immersion and interaction between consumer and content provides an access point for those interested in testing the new waters of journalism. Mastering tools and adopting trends such as social media, infographics, data visualization, user experience design, among others, can help new media entrepreneurs to differentiate themselves from their competition.

But these tools are only as good those who use them, says Caplan.

“Students need to have a passion or media skill around a particular subject area. They need to have some sort expertise around it and make sure they can share it with other people,” he said. “Because that’s what really it going to help them stand out, no matter what they are doing.”

Photo credit: CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

Entrepreneurship in the City University of New York

With a steady growth in the number of startups and companies created in New York City during the last couple of years, Silicon Alley has become a national player in the field of entrepreneurship and technology.

As the City of New York keeps attracting more engineers and entrepreneurs from all over the country with initiatives such as NYC’s Next Idea, NYTECH and Made in NY, other local organizations are also supporting this digital expansion by promoting entrepreneurship within the framework of public education.

Many colleges at the City University of New York have developed their own entrepreneurship curricula to provide support to students passionate about creating their own businesses in a large variety of fields.

“CUNY is very much engaged in promoting entrepreneurship for their students as well as their faculty,” said Myron Wecker, Deputy Director at the CUNY Center for Advanced Technology, a state-funded program that promotes research and development-based collaborations between industries and universities.

Student entrepreneurship has in fact been the focus of initiatives such as the Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship at Baruch College and the Queens College Schultzman Center for Entrepreneurship. Other CUNY universities also offer smaller scale degrees to future entrepreneurs who dream of creating their own startups.

But according to Wecker, CUNY has had a slow beginning to foster startups within its academic community, something that private universities such as New York and Columbia, among others, seem much more engaged with.

However, he believes that CUNY can definitely increase its efforts to support students while also keeping the pace of the city’s technological boom.

“CUNY needs to recognize the interest that students now have in the entrepreneurial economy,” said Wecker. “In the past, students studied hard, got a degree and went to work for a big company, but the American economy has changed. Most companies don’t hire people for life anymore, and students coming out of college now know there is another way.”

New York City is now the second leading tech hub in the nation producing an estimated $30 billion in salaries per year, according to the Brooklyn Tech Triangle Coalition, an organization composed of three business improvement groups – the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the DUMBO Improvement District and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, which looks to increase the economic growth of these areas.

With statistics like these, it seems inevitable that public universities evolve while expanding their mission and creating a more friendly student-entrepreneur environment.

A plan to develop an incubator space that will provide offices and resources to student and faculty startups, and which will be located at 125 Street in Manhattan, was included in the CUNY’s “Investing in Our Future” Master Plan for 2012-2016. According to a school official, the center is scheduled to open this summer.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has also said he would collaborate with the City University of New York, to create a two-year Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program to help high school graduates get jobs in the city’s flourishing tech scene.

“I think that what CUNY really needs to do is to bring tech startup management with an emphasis on innovation to non-tech startups,” said Sebastian Restrepo, a Biology and Sociology major at Baruch College, and self-styled emerging entrepreneur. “Not all entrepreneurs have a computer science or a business degree.”

Wecker also thinks that the growing popularity of startups has caused many students to dropout of school.

“Many students see success around them and think, ‘hey, maybe I can create the next Facebook,’” Wecker said. “But don’t forget, these all started by students at universities, and I think that has caught the imagination of people with entrepreneurial skills and ideas.”

Moreover, Wecker believes that many of the programs that CUNY offers can actually help young entrepreneurs to discover if their projects have “merit in the market place.”

“Students have to understand that a vast majority of startup companies fail,” said Wecker. “You don’t want to spend years working on a failed idea, and I think CUNY can provide a collaborative setting where you can learn what really works for you and what not.”

Where are the CUNY startups?

Despite the fact that this blog intends to follow all type of startups created or being developed in New York,  I must admit that as a student at the City University of New York,  I also wanted to find companies that are actually being built within the city’s public education system.

My idea has been to feature CUNY-based startups, but I’ve had a hard time finding a  database or organization that lists businesses created within the system.

Despite the existence of multiple entrepreneurship/business departments within CUNY colleges; I believe, – and this my personal opinion,- that there should be a more collective effort by the CUNY system to gather these startups within one place. I believe that this would  help to create a stronger community of entrepreneurs, and even give identity and support to those who plan to become business owners.

It is really important for CUNY faculty and administration to realize that students, no matter their major, are becoming more aware of the entrepreneurial economy.  An increasing number of young adults are following the steps of successful startups, and many of these people hope to become and be part of a truly independent workforce that values innovation and creative collaborations, more than just being part of a large corporation.

This dissatisfaction with corporate America can be perceived even at the smallest examples of legal employment: internships.

Articles such as “For Interns, All Work and No Payoff” by the New York Times, or ProPublica’s Internships Series, explore multiple cases of people, who unhappy with the way corporations treat them, decide to create their own ventures or become freelancers and independent workers.

This one of the reasons why I think CUNY has to do a better job at promoting entrepreneurship beyond business and marketing degrees. Students are perceiving industries, – and even education- in a completely different manner than their previous generations, and this is what CUNY needs to tackle or even take advantage of.

By promoting technology, apprenticeship and a sense of entrepreneurial community within itself, CUNY has the potential to become a stronger player in Silicon Alley, becoming the original New York incubator that its local students currently need.

Why covering NYC Startups?

Part school assignment, part curiosity about the startup scene in New York City, the Startup Beat will try to follow everything related with entrepreneurship and startups in one of the largest technological hubs in the country.

I will also explore topics such as:

  • Can entrepreneurship be taught?
    • If so, what schools are teaching or helping entrepreneurs?
    • Is startup creation just an “ivy league” phenomena?
    • What are the hottest startups right now?
    • Why Silicon Alley not Valley?
    • What are the top tech events in the city?
    • MOOC’s versus traditional teaching?


If you are interested in these topics, stick along for some cool information and articles. Don’t forget to share your comments and opinions.

The Startup Blog.