New Media Ventures
2020 Expanded Open Call
New Media Ventures

We believe that COVID-19 will be one of the biggest economic, political, and cultural turning points of our lifetime, and how we respond will shape our future. The crisis is already giving rise to unprecedented innovation, which is why we are expanding our 2020 Open Call to surface new projects.

Deadline
June 30th, 2020 11:59pm PT
Our Criteria
We focus on scalable solutions from diverse, mission-driven teams. We're especially eager to hear from startups that are shifting power, building movements, changing narratives, and sparking civic engagement in the face of the current crisis.
 
1.
Shifting Power
Restoring power to citizens and communities requires bold vision and large-scale change, especially in a time of crisis. How can tech and media help?
 
2.
Building Movements
Together we are capable of amazing things. How can innovation accelerate movements for racial, gender, economic, and environmental justice?
 
3.
Changing Narratives
Stories inspire action and culture has the power to accelerate social change. What’s the next chapter for media and messaging? How can new voices change the way we see the world?
 
4.
Sparking Civic Engagement
To create the vibrant democracy we know is possible, we need everyone involved. How can technology help us engage as voters, volunteers, and candidates - even in the face of social distancing?
Resources
For Investors / For Startups / News & Events / Open Call
April 7th, 2020

Why We’re Expanding the Open Call

For Startups
August 5th, 2016

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

For Startups
April 27th, 2015

On Unicorns: We’re Looking For A Different Kind Of Magic

FAQs
Getting Started
Wasn’t the NMV Open Call launched earlier this year?

Yes! But for the first time in our 10 year history, we are expanding our Open Call to surface additional projects advancing democracy in the face of COVID-19. We first launched the Open Call in February and accepted applications until early March. Since then, the fast-moving COVID-19 crisis continues to create new challenges and exacerbate existing inequalities at an alarming pace. We must act quickly to protect vulnerable communities and defend our democracy. In a world transformed by COVID-19, we need progressive technology and media more than ever before.



We hosted a webinar to share our thinking on Tuesday, April 14. The recording, slide deck, and Q&A are available here.

What if I already applied?

We’re inviting the 500+ founders who pitched us earlier this year to share updates on how their plans have changed in light of COVID-19 (consider this the 2nd round of questions we were planning to ask anyway). We also want to hear from founders who didn’t pitch us but are spinning up new projects in response to this crisis, including those in our existing portfolio. We are already seeing unparalleled ingenuity, persistence, and collective action in the face of the threat and want to be responsive as funders to resource that progressive innovation.

How do I apply now?

We are using a platform called airtable to process applications. Click here to access the application. For your convenience, you can see a list of the application questions here. Existing Open Call applicants will be required to submit a new application, but we will send each of you your prior application as a starting point. Feel free to copy/paste language from your original application on questions where nothing has changed.


The application opens on Tuesday, April 7 and we are accepting submissions on a rolling basis. Applications submitted by Monday, May 4, will be given priority in our review cycle, so we encourage you to fill out the application as soon as you are able. After May 4, we will continue to accept and review applications as they come, as we know the COVID-19 crisis is fast changing and will affect your operating environment past that time.


We encourage you to join our informational webinar on Tuesday, April 14 at 10 AM PT - please register here. There will be dedicated time during the webinar to answer your questions directly. If you can’t join the webinar, it will be recorded and a link will be posted on our website.

What’s the timeline?

April 7: Accepting applications - we will begin reviewing as soon as we receive them.

April 14: Informational webinar for prospective applicants at 10 AM PT.

May 4: Applications submitted by this date will be given priority in our review cycle, but we will continue to accept and consider applications afterwards until we have exhausted our funding.

Mid-May onward: NMV team, with support from an external investment committee of field experts will 1) begin interviewing shortlisted applicants and 2) conduct additional diligence on a subset of interviewees, including customer references and a review of financials.

Mid-May - August: Applicants selected for funding are notified on a rolling basis

Why should I apply?

NMV has been there for us as founders from the very beginning. We had so much to learn about the world of tech startups and impact investing. NMV's team helped us learn the ropes of fundraising, including how to describe ourselves. Being part of NMV's portfolio has connected us to other innovative social enterprises to share successes, ideas and challenges with each other.


— Cheryl Contee, Co-Founder, Attentive.ly (acquired by Blackbaud in 2016)

What support do selected organizations receive?

$25K to $250K in funding. We typically make investments in for-profits (most often via convertible notes) and give unrestricted grants to nonprofits.


Historically, we have offered a funding range of $50K - $250K. We are lowering our minimum investment so we can move through diligence faster, be more responsive to the shifting needs of applicants, and have flexibility on the number of groups we support this year.


Coaching and virtual acceleration support led by Sabrina Hersi Issa, our Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and introductions to NMV’s network of angel investors for follow-on capital, connections and advice.


The opportunity to participate in NMV’s Summit, a unique convening of funders, investors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders. This year, we are currently evaluating alternatives to the usual in-person event.

Who should apply?

New Media Ventures funds for-profits and nonprofits. We’re looking for scalable solutions from diverse, mission-driven teams that are working to advance progressive change in the context of COVID-19. We’ll consider supporting:

  • - Existing portfolio members that are uniquely positioned to fill critical gaps arising in this context
  • - Early stage ventures working to build and scale solutions in this context
  • - New programs and / or collaborations of larger organizations that are positioned to develop new tech tools or other cutting edge approaches that could be transformative for the progressive movement

NMV funding is often best suited for early-stage startups (pre-seed/seed stage) or projects for which $25K to $250K can make a meaningful difference. Our mission is to support entrepreneurs and activists wrestling with the biggest challenges facing our democracy. We are especially interested in supporting founders working to shift the balance of power in the country, and for this Open Call, we have a preference for work that is especially positioned to build power in this COVID-19 context now and in the long term. Ultimately, we hope to find the best technology and media innovations and love to be surprised by things we haven’t seen or considered before. You should look at our portfolio and our most recent investment slate to get a sense of the breadth of organizations we support.


Included below are some non-exhaustive examples of the types of applications that could be a fit for this Open Call, and how they align with three areas of our theory of change to build progressive power. Register here for our informational webinar on Tuesday, April 14 at 10 AM PT, if you are still unsure if you’re a fit.

  • - Strong movements (i.e., building people power)
    • - Example 1: New c3 applicant building an online platform to help at-risk employees of small businesses form unions to protect their rights.
    • - Example 2: Existing NMV c4 portfolio organization, now especially positioned to advocate for more generous leave policies for vulnerable communities, applying for funds to launch that campaign.
  • - Inclusive media (i.e., building narrative power)
    • - Example 1: New for-profit applicant building online media tools for private conversations between members of underserved communities and organizers.
    • - Example 2: Existing c3 2020 Open Call local media applicant launching new content verticals (e.g., mutual aid maps) in light of COVID-19.
  • - Engaged citizens, (i.e. building electoral power)
    • - Example 1: New c4 applicant working on direct-service interventions for vote-by-mail
    • - Example 2: Existing for-profit 2020 Open Call friend-to-friend texting applicant, with increased demand for their work in light of COVID-19.
What are we looking for?

Fiscal structure agnostic: We will consider funding both for-profits (including B-Corps and Benefit Corporations) and nonprofits (including 501c3, 501c4 and 527 groups).


Scalable with a proof of concept: We prefer ventures with an existing user base (even if they are only beta users), demonstrated proof of concept, and a clear plan for generating revenue and growth. In some cases, we will fund ventures with little or no user base if there is compelling research proving the efficacy of the idea, or a clear chance to build power in this COVID-19 context now and in the future.


Preference for sustainable model and impact: We have a preference for work that is sustainable, and builds power in a COVID-19 context now and in the future. We will consider applications that are brand new and/or shorter-term in focus, or that may benefit from a one-time surge in funding, if they are well positioned to address challenges that the COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating.


Strong, diverse team: We look for leadership teams that have both the technical and business talent to create something great and then sell it, and who understand their customer base intimately. We are wary of startups that have outsourced their technical team, only have developers as co-founders or have B2B experience but want to build a consumer-facing solution. We are especially interested in democratizing access to capital and encourage people who are under-represented in the startup community to apply. In our experience, founders with direct experience of the challenges they are working to solve are best positioned to do so.


Mission-driven: New Media Ventures is mission-driven and works to invest in entrepreneurs and activists shifting the balance of power in the United States. We care about environmental protection, economic equality, racial justice, and a thriving democracy. The startups we support are mission-driven and seeking to make the world a better place.

Selection Process

Applications will be reviewed and evaluated on a rolling basis by NMVs’ investment team and an external investment committee of field experts, with priority given to those submitted by May 4. Starting as early as early May, shortlisted applicants will interview with NMV. The NMV team will then conduct final and deeper diligence on a subset of interviewees and make final funding decisions. We will move money on a rolling basis, as early as mid-May, with August as a rough target end date.


A full evaluation for an applicant selected for funding includes, at most, a review of your written applications, multiple interviews, conversations with your references, a review of your financial documents (current budget and forecast) as well as conversation with experts in your field, as relevant. Where possible, we will move through diligence faster to be as responsive as possible to the COVID-19 context.

Application FAQs
What is Airtable?

Airtable is a cloud collaboration platform used by hundreds of businesses, startups, and funders to host and share information. You can also attend our webinar on Tuesday, April 14 at 10 AM PT, where we will give an overview of how we use Airtable to process your application. RSVP to join the webinar here.

Will I be required to create an airtable account?

The application does not require you to create an airtable account, though you can do so if you would like. If you want to take a look at the application questions without having to visit airtable, you can review them here.

Are there word counts for my responses?

The length of your answers to the application is not limited, but we do include suggested word counts - we recognize the importance of providing you with space to explain the nuances of your work, but also value concise language that helps you focus on the core of your impact and streamlines our review process. Please check the length of your responses before submitting them and aim to be within a reasonable range of the suggested word count.

Do you have an example Open Call application that was previously successful that I can view?

You can view an example application from a past Open Call here.

I want to make sure I’m answering the questions in the best way! Are there any questions you see applicants commonly struggle with?

In our experience, we’ve seen applicants struggle the most with the following questions:

  1. - What are you building?
    • Describe the work for which you are seeking funding. It may be helpful to describe the problem you hope to solve to contextualize your work, but that’s less important than clearly describing what you are building.
  2. - Who needs it and why?
    • Describe your target audience / market as specifically as possible - for example, ‘the general population’ is more high level than we are looking for; if you do hope to serve everyone, are there certain groups that you are more focused on in the short term? If you have information about your market size, please include it here.
  3. - Why are you uniquely positioned to accomplish this work?
    • We want to understand how you are positioned compared to others to solve the problem you are tackling. In our experience, ‘no one else is doing this work’ is rarely a viable answer - sometimes there is no one doing exactly what you are doing, but there is usually a substitute (something people do now in absence of your solution). We also know you might collaborate with others, so please share details if helpful. Ultimately, we most want to know why this new project or company is needed to address the problem. You may find our example application useful in how to frame your competitors.

In general, use concise language, quantitative data (e.g., size of the audience / market you are trying to reach), and specificity where possible.

Do you fund / make grants to startups outside of the United States?

We only support projects that are making an impact in the U.S. We will consider supporting projects led outside of the U.S., but that are seeking to enter the U.S. market.

What do you consider proof of concept?

We expect ideas to have encountered reality - not simply a plan on paper. This could be a prototype or a test that provides some (even if it’s relatively little) evidence or data that your project is feasible. We often share the example of how Upworthy got started -- using a test they did through MoveOn to demonstrate that audiences would share powerful videos. In some cases, we will fund ventures with little or no proof of concept if there is compelling research proving the efficacy of the idea, or a demonstrated need and opportunity to build power.


Additionally, we will consider applications that are brand new and / or shorter-term in focus, or that may benefit from a one-time surge in funding, if they are well positioned to address challenges that the COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating.

I’m not done yet, but have to go do something else. What do I do?

Airtable does not have an autosave function. We strongly recommend filling out the application in a separate document and copying/pasting into airtable once it's completed. The list of questions in the application are linked here for your convenience.

Can I edit my application once I have submitted it?

You will not be able to edit an application once it is submitted to airtable, so we strongly encourage you to fill out the application in a separate document and copy/paste into airtable once it’s completed. However, if you accidentally submit an incomplete application, you can submit a new application. If you do so, please notify us at innovationfund@newmediaventures.org. If you have important updates, such as new customers, you would like us to know about after submitting, please send a note to innovationfund@newmediaventures.org but do not submit a new application.

How will the data I submit be used? Will it be shared?

We will not share PII (Personally Identifiable Information) like email or phone numbers publicly, but we may share aggregated data on themes from the Open Call applications across our network of funders, founders, and activists or to the public. We will keep details about your organization (e.g., financials) confidential.

I’m finished! What’s next?

Once you press submit at the bottom of the airtable submission form, you will be shown text that thanks you for your time and confirms your submission. You will see a link for a post-application survey which we ask you to complete to help us understand how to improve our process and make the application transparent and not too cumbersome.


Thanks for sharing your work with us! We’ll be in touch soon.

Other NMV-related FAQs
What is the NMV network of angel investors? What type of funding do they typically provide?

NMV investors are driven by impact and return, but each investor has different criteria. For for-profits in our portfolio, we commit to reach out to our network of angel investors and connect those interested in joining us in a round. Together, NMV and for-profit investors in our angel network can provide $150K - $1M+ in funding at the seed stage.


For non-profits in our portfolio, we are committed to helping you be equipped to fundraise effectively. Support varies depending on needs, but this can include connections to funders we know when there is mutual interest, support from our team on pitch material review, webinars from our team on fundraising lessons and cycles, and an invitation to our annual Summit where many donors are present.

What kind of entities do you fund?

NMV has always been structure agnostic. We will fund many different forms of for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations. If you’re not incorporated yet, you can still apply. We understand things are moving fast, and we want to see the best ideas regardless of current structure.

My organization has multiple fiscal structures. Which one should I indicate on the application?

Please select all that apply in the application.

Is NMV an accelerator?

Because we invest in early-stage startups, the entrepreneurs in our portfolio often need additional strategic support, and we have developed a virtual accelerator program to provide resources that are especially helpful for first-time founders. We are not a structured or time-bound accelerator program, however, and encourage our portfolio organizations and companies to seek out such programs whenever possible, alongside NMV funding. We encourage applicants to consider accelerator programs like: Y-Combinator, Higher Ground Labs, and FastForward, among others.

Can previous NMV Innovation Fund applicants and recipients apply?

Existing applicants to the 2020 Open Call we launched earlier this year must submit updates on their work in context of the COVID-19 crisis at this new application link. We also want to hear from founders who didn’t pitch us but are spinning up new projects in response to this crisis, including those in our existing portfolio.


Past applicants from Open Calls before 2020 are also welcome to apply to this Open Call. We’ll consider stand alone applications, as well as collaboration proposals from multiple organizations working on one solution together which could include an organization from our existing portfolio. In our experience, collaboration proposals that carefully outline complementary strengths of each organization can be compelling, but do not give applicants any outright advantage in the review process.

For investments in for profit companies, what is asked in return? Is there a request for equity, voting shares, or anything else?

Usually we invest in the form of convertible debt, which is essentially a loan that you can pay back or pay back with equity. We have made other kinds of investments on a case-by-case basis.

For projects that you select to fund, what sort of interaction do you have with the project? Beyond funding, are there other areas of support provided? Are there expectations / requirements for participation with other grantees or other entities in your network?

We have a virtual accelerator program to help support portfolio companies and organizations - this includes an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Sabrina Hersi Issa, who is available for 1:1 consultation, connections to other funders, a founder community to provide peer support and a series of webinars and calls on issues that commonly affect entrepreneurs (hiring/firing, growth strategy, product development). We bring together our entire portfolio and investor community once a year at our annual summit.

Is $250K the highest investment you will make?

Yes. Every investment we make will also be shared with our network of funders. Funders have historically invested follow-on capital (up to $1M per startup), however there’s no guarantee that companies will be funded beyond our investment.

I still don’t understand what you do and don’t fund.

For more information, please read these this post: NMV’s Fit Test: What We Fund (and What We Don’t) or review our reflections on our work to better understand how we think on our website here.


In this Open Call, applicants must also explain how their work builds power in a COVID-19 context. We have a preference for work that builds power now and in the long-term, and that is financially sustainable. However, we will consider applications that are brand new and / or shorter-term in focus, or that may benefit from a one time surge in funding if they are well positioned to address challenges that the COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating.

 
Learn more about NMV
Find out more about who we fund and what kind of individuals are in our network. Also explore resources for entrepreneurs in Tools for Change.