The Daily News launches Innovation Lab: Promises to be a worthy, unique media incubator

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on September 12, 2013

From The News Desk

There seems to be a fairly new trend among old guard media that involves entrepreneurship. The idea, which has been taking seed for a couple of years, goes something like this: I'm not sure what the next great idea/company will be, and I sure as hell am not going to come up with it inside my newsroom, but why don't I put a few young upstarts on the case, throw them a few advisory and economic bones, and maybe I'll churn out the next Instagram or Livefyre. Of course, it isn't ever worded like that, but you get the sentiment.

Not to be left in the dust, we have a new program -- dare I say, an incubator -- being launched by the New York Daily News. It's called Innovation Lab, and has Daily News' Senior Vice President and General Counsel Cyna Alderman at the helm. It launched this week and is now trying to get the word out to New York-based media startups.

According to Alderman, the program will be focused on early-stage companies that specialize in digital media and community outreach. The companies will work alongside Daily News staff in its office, test out its product using Daily News resources, and work toward the ultimate goal of providing a sellable product. The media company will also help the business scale and grow once a product is deemed ready.

Further, Innovation Lab will invest up to $25,000 of seed money in the form of a convertible note to the chosen companies.

Alderman told me this was an idea that arose organically, yet echoes the ethos of some past Daily News ventures. Working in an older print establishment, outlets are always looking for fresh and new tools to adapt to the changing media landscape. And the Daily News has dabbled in this before. Alderman pointed to the crowdsourced photo-scraping startup Olapic, which began as a service primarily for wedding photos. Three years back the company pivoted toward providing photo services for media companies, and The Daily News was one of the first media companies to pick it up.

Of course, this isn't the only media-based incubator around; on the contrary this could be viewed as bandwagon jumping. In New York there's The New York Times's TimeSpace, which offers companies a desk at the Times' office, as well as access to mentorship and partnership opportunities. There's also the BBC Worldwide Labs, a six-month accelerator for early-stage companies that just launched its New York office a few months back.

Alderman is aware of the influx, but thinks Innovation Lab is categorically different. First, it's working on a small scale, with the hopes of providing meticulous attention and resources to the chosen companies. In addition, the program isn't merely offering the Daily News' space along with some key mentorship; it is offering the paper's infrastructure and resources so that companies can successfully test out their products. And there's also the seed money, which neither the BBC nor the Times offer.

"Think of it almost as a strategic investment," Eleanor Haas, a member of Innovation Labs' advising committee, told me.

Alderman says the only program that might be similar is the Philadelphia-based Project Liberty. Given New York's status as a media and culture hub, it seems only fitting an outlet should have such a program here as well.

In December it was said that 90 percent of the accelerator programs don't end up getting their money returned -- rest assured, Alderman is aware of this. At the same time, she is enthusiastic about the prospects for this program given the Daily News' intellectual stake in it. This is not just a throng of venture capitalists playing wheel of fortune, nor is it an ailing media dynasty hoping to soak up some fresh blood via osmosis. This is the Daily News honestly seeking out the next wave of digital media upstarts, with the intention of utilizing and investing in them.

To make sure companies get the attention they need, and the Daily News doesn't get in over its head, Innovation Lab is starting small, with only one or two companies. From there, Alderman sees it as a means to vet innovation.

Naturally, this is a gamble; incubators and accelerators alike are viewed more critically these days. Applications will be accepted between October 1 through the 31, with selections being made sometime in early December.

Maybe a success story from the incubator will end upon the Daily News' front page, accompanied by a juicy, tabloid headline – something like UPSTART STARTUP REAPS REWARDS.

Admittedly, not as good as the Daily News' Anthony Weiner headline, BEAT IT! or its Osama Bin Laden cover, ROT IN HELL!. But give the News time to incubate and who knows?

[Image via Shutterstock]