Innovation Fund

The Results Are In! Innovation Fund 5.0 Winners

by: | Nov 16, 2016

We have just funded 6 great startups via the Innovation Fund! In our summer Open Call, we received a record 220 applications and we couldn’t be more thrilled about the work of the innovators who are joining our portfolio of changemakers.

We were lucky to work with an incredible screening committee of 10 experts, ranging from a program officer at the Open Society Foundations to a partner from the leading venture accelerator 500 Startups, who helped us evaluate the applications and choose the most promising ones.

Together, these 6 startups embody what New Media Ventures is all about: 2 startups are applying cutting-edge technology such as live video and virtual reality in new ways to advance social and environmental causes (Mobil-Eyes Us, Owlized), 2 are engaging and mobilizing underrepresented communities in creative and scalable ways (MPower Change, PushBlack) and 2 are equipping kids and adults to make more social and environmentally-conscious decisions (Buycott, Dreamrider Productions). Learn more about each of them below.

As many of you know, innovation is critical to advance the social and environmental issues we all care about. Contact us to join our growing network of investors, founders and thought-leaders to help build movements, tell new stories and accelerate civic engagement!

Without further ado, here are the latest winners of the NMV Innovation Fund in alphabetical order:

BuycottBuycott, a for-profit, helps consumers vote with their wallets to create change. Users select the causes they support from a list of NGO-sponsored campaigns (e.g. “End Animal Testing”). Then, when they scan a product barcode or search, they’ll discover where that product’s parent company stands on the issues that matter to them. Buycott also makes it easy for users to inform companies about their purchase decisions and find alternative products that better match their principles. For example, The Organic Consumer Association has used Buycott to apply pressure on consumer packaged goods companies who oppose GMO labeling. In the last year, consumer pressure has been strong enough for Campbell’s Soup Company and Mars, amongst others, to begin voluntarily labeling GMO content of all products.

 

dreamriderlogonopicDreamrider Productions, a non-profit, trains superheroes of environmental protection through interactive media and live theatre. They use the power of “kids bugging their parents” to drive lasting, measurable change. They have reached over 900,000 young children in 62 cities across Canada since 1997, with a powerful mix of comedy, offline arts activities and games, video, gamification, kindness, story and fun. This transformative experience has inspired many of these children to become leaders in their communities and provides a fertile ground to advance environmental causes. They recently launched Planet Protector Academy, an online platform for teachers to scale their work and expand into the United States.

 

witness_logo_05Mobil-Eyes Us, a project of the non-profit WITNESS, combines immersive livestreaming and task routing technology to connect “distant witnesses” – people watching via livestream, and who have capacity and inclination to take meaningful action – with activists on the front lines. Mobil-Eyes Us builds stronger empathy and solidarity and capitalizes on the skills and leverage of distant witnesses, who can help deter violence, rapidly share what happens, provide direct legal guidance, or take other timely, relevant actions to alter the outcome of situations. Their first pilot in Rio showed how a series of livestreams from a community at risk could engage a targeted group of distant witnesses in understanding the alternative reality of people affected negatively by the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

 

mpower-change-logo-variations_9_croppedMPowerChange, a non-profit, is a Muslim-led digital organizing and storytelling project advancing social justice. MPowerChange uses organizing, campaigning, and storytelling to build the grassroots power of American Muslims and advances social, spiritual, racial, and economic justice for all people. MPowerChange debuted online in December 2015 and within weeks established collaborations with some of the country’s largest online activism groups (like MoveOn and ColorOfChange) and with leading American Muslim groups including the Council on American–Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America.

 

logo-01Owlized, a for-profit, produces tools for engaging public audiences on location with virtual experiences that are relevant, powerful, and meaningful. Owlized produces tools that harness the empathic power of virtual and augmented reality while delivering meaningful stories that facilitate deeper, more meaningful human interaction with the real world. Their flagship product, OWL®, is a revolutionary, 360-degree VR kiosk which enables public audiences to look forward or backward in time, interact with design options, or “step into” rich media content at a place. A recent study of the OWL by Stanford Research Fellow Dr. Susi Moser has shown its incredible effectiveness in building awareness and willingness to act on the issue of climate change.

 

pushblackfinal20001PushBlack, a non-profit, is a mobile-first black civic engagement group that organizes black voters through mobile messaging. PushBlack attracts and engages black subscribers through weekly text news and history services and other text-based experiences. With that relationship, PushBlack is able to encourage members to register and vote, and stay involved in critical issues.

NMV’s Fit Test: What We Fund (and What We Don’t)

by: | Aug 05, 2016

Person with checklist and pen

The Open Call for the New Media Ventures Innovation Fund closed a few weeks ago. We have just passed the first milestone in the diligence process:  we eliminated applicants from our evaluation pool because they did not fit within our funding focus.

We got a record number of applications with this open call – a 25% increase compared to our Open Call last winter. We’re glad the word is spreading about the Innovation Fund! In addition, 65% of applicants reported having a woman on the leadership team, and 60% reported having a person of color on their leadership team. We couldn’t be more proud that the Open Call helps reach innovators that are too often overlooked by traditional investors.

86% of applicants reported that is was easy or somewhat easy to assess whether their work was a fit for NMV’s investment scope. In spite of this, we eliminated over half of the applications we received. This tells us we need to do a better job of explaining the types of innovation we fund. The purpose of this post is to explain why we have declined to further evaluate some applications, and help the startups that apply for our next Open Call this winter determine whether they are a fit. Here are the main reasons we rejected applications:

  • Lack of progressive impact – We are exclusively focused on funding companies and organizations that can have significant positive impact. We reviewed cutting-edge technology or media startups, but without a demonstrated commitment towards making the world a better place, we did not evaluate them further.
  • Non-US focus – Our work focuses on companies and organizations that can have an impact in the US. For groups that are working abroad, we look for a significant presence in the US, impact in the US or serious plans to grow your impact here.
  • Too early – Startups that were only ideas, with no team or proof of concept were often turned down, unless the idea had incredible potential impact or there were other reasons to believe the idea was feasible (incubated by existing organization, team with relevant expertise, etc.)
  • Not scalable – We use a venture-capital lens to evaluate applications, meaning we look for solutions that can grow fast in terms of impact and revenue. This means that startups with a limited geographic focus, or small target population, were not a fit for us even if they tackle important issues. Similarly, startups that focus exclusively on content production (e.g. producing documentaries) or are consulting firms, were ruled out.
  • Research –  NMV does not fund academic research. We are interested in startups applying cutting-edge research and scaling solutions but we don’t directly fund academic research.
  • Not working to change the balance of power – We are most interested in innovative ways to reach, influence and mobilize people at scale towards progressive causes. In particular, we tend for fund startups working to change the narrative, culture and beliefs in the US, to empower and accelerate advocacy and to increase citizen engagement. That said, the wide variety of applications we receive for each open call helps us test the boundaries of our investment hypothesis so we often encourage startups to apply “when in doubt” and push us to stretch our thinking.

We are currently evaluating applications in more detail and will select the most promising ones to interview by the end of this week. We’ll continue to share what we notice and learn along the way. It has been incredibly inspiring to see the breadth and depth of the work mission-driven innovators are doing today. Thank you to everyone who has applied to our Open Call for sharing your work with us.