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Business Model Accelerator will hold open call for ideas this year

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An open call for ideas from entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs for the new Business Model Accelerator will be held later this year, according to Jed Williams, Chief Innovation Officer for the Local Media Association, who is heading up this initiative.

Williams has been working with the staff and board of LMA for the last 15 months to create a strategic plan for the Accelerator. So far the group has laid out a few major criteria and ground rules; the team will focus on identifying ideas with the potential to generate several hundred million in revenue for the industry nationwide, work with a variety of start-up founders, including solo entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and even R&D partners with new product ideas and provide “rigorous testing” of concepts and prototypes with the input of media companies.

He said the team wants to look for ideas with big revenue potential because of the sheer volume of local media companies who are members of or engage in LMA programs. If half of 2,800 local members adopted a new revenue model with an average $300,000 in new revenues at each property, the potential is in the hundreds of millions.

Williams is in a good position to estimate market potential. A former senior analyst and VP of Strategic Consulting at BIAKelsey, he also served as VP of Business Development and Strategy at Vendasta, the media technology company that is one of the fastest growing in Canada. According to the Canadian trade press, Vendasta topped $30 million by licensing its platform in 2017; its media partners that use the platform to sell a full suite of digital products earn exponentially more.  

While media companies have struggled under financial pressures, many of the technology companies that support the transformation of business models have rapidly grown. Also public are numbers from iPublish, which provides a front end for online self-serve revenues primarily from obituaries and classifieds. They claimed to have processed more than  $300 million in transactional revenues for media companies through their platform in 2018, and expect another big leap in market penetration via additional roll-outs from existing chains and new local media partners this year.

While at LMA, Williams said he spent much of his time over the past two years seeing new revenue models come across his desk that weren’t likely to become a major part of an overall solution to local media’s revenue woes.

“When I was looking at the numbers, one of the things that really stood out is that the typical project size is quite small.”

“We don’t want to focus on cottage industries or pet projects, but rather on finding, researching, testing, analyzing and bringing to market ideas that have scaling potential and a real revenue model that can impact a significant number of players.”

“Large revenue numbers for the industry sound astounding and eye-popping, but when you do the math, it is not really that much revenue at the property level if there is widespread adoption... [The accelerator] is also about getting the largest segments of the industry to try it,” he said.

A key role of the accelerator is to run new products through a rigorous research process that involves testing of concepts, prototypes and go-to-market strategies by the same media companies that will eventually be partners and clients.

The accelerator’s team will provide insights from the research to assist in the design, and may eventually embed their own team in media companies to assist with the roll-out.

In short, the idea is to launch great technology that already has some built-in clients, metrics and trust.

“We are going to be important in the earlier phases of start-ups:  Funding the team, creating product prototypes and go to market strategies and coaching on implementation.”

Here’s what the accelerator will not do: Give grants, raise funds directly, or take an equity stake, at least not yet, Williams said.

“As a nonprofit trade association, we are not seeking outcomes to make money, we are seeking outcomes where there is real revenue impact for media companies, at least right now.”

Ideas do not have to be immediately profitable or well-funded, however, to participate, Williams said.

“We are taking a bottom-up approach, with the minimum investment to get [start-up ideas] functional. We just don’t want to focus on projects that look short term or are one-offs that don’t feel relevant to much of the industry.

He expects some of the funding for both the accelerator itself and its start-ups to come from the media industry. The Business Model Accelerator is currently seeking its own round of funding, approaching a broad group of media foundations, philanthropists and corporations.

Some entrepreneurs have already started contacting him with ideas, including existing start-ups, solo entrepreneurs and intrapreneurial employees within media companies.

“We have a very open view. We will welcome new and emerging revenue ideas from anyone. They will all be evaluated. I’m a very big believer that ideas don’t all come from the same place.”

He said LMA will also consider projects at different lifecycle stages.

“There is a lot of flexibility. I had several people reach out to me who have real companies, real prototypes and are trying to figure out how to get feedback. They might have an existing product suite and want to expand that.”

“We will still do a rigorous research and evaluation process.”

Once the Accelerator has its own funding, Williams says his job this year will pivot to running the program full time. If all goes well, the Accelerator team will field an “open call” for revenue ideas this year. Until then, “if anyone has an idea to submit or wants to provide funding, it’s me,”  Williams said.

He can be reached at jed.williams@localmedia.org

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