Tag Archives: CUNY Startups

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

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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.