Media entrepreneurship starts with passion and a clue, experts say

The separation of church and state is no longer valid when it comes to journalism education. That’s one of many concepts two leaders in media entrepreneurship shared with Elon University faculty and students on Jan. 20.

William Crowder of Comcast’s DreamIt Ventures, left and Doug Mitchell of UNITY’s NewU incubator, discuss media startups at Elon University on Friday, Jan. 20.

William Crowder, managing director of Comcast’s DreamIt Ventures media accelerator, and Doug Mitchell, co-director of NewU, the media incubator for UNITY, visited with students and faculty in both the School of Communications and the Martha and Spencer Love School of Business to discuss an interdisciplinary approach to media entrepreneurship. The visit was initiated after the fall screening at Elon of CNN’s Blacks in America: Silicon Valley, which revealed the challenges of being a minority media founder.

Associate Professor of Communications Michelle Ferrier invited the two directors to Elon to brainstorm about a new digital entrepreneurship course she is developing for Winter Term 2013. Ferrier is the creator of a series of national startup events for people of color called Journalism That Matters Create or Die.

Ferrier said communications students need to have the creativity and the business know-how to be both intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs.

“We need innovation within and outside legacy media,” she said. “Our students need to understand the startup landscape and how to take ideas from thought to launch.”

Mitchell said the NewU program is about journalists of color who are mission driven to bring news and information to their communities.

School of Communications Associate Professor Michelle Ferrier completed the Scripps Howard Journalism Entrepreneurship fellowship this January with the goal to create a digital entrepreneurship course at Elon next winter.

“We want to give them the acumen to look at what others are doing and to be able to learn from those content creators,” Mitchell said.

Crowder said that accelerators like DreamIt are considered the “graduate programs” of entrepreneurship. However, undergraduate students need to learn the language of entrepreneurship and have an understanding of the startup ecosystem.

“Students can also learn how to identify opportunity,” Crowder said. “But students must start with a passion and then bring value to it.”

Crowder said that universities are a critical place for identifying projects of merit for external incubators and accelerators. Faculty can help vet projects to push to higher levels such as competitions, startup weekends, incubators and accelerators.

One of the challenges to innovation within academe is creating a culture of failure, iteration and learning.

“Failure is critical to innovation. However, students are conditioned to fear failure. We need to create spaces where experimentation is OK,” said Ferrier.

Students suggested spaces at Elon for creative, entrepreneurially minded individuals to gather.

“You need a community where you’re working alongside other entrepreneurs who believe in you,” Ferrier said. “Like a startup space where project teams can gather or a living space where innovation is encouraged 24/7.”