At NMV, we’re committed to thinking bigger about how we fund progressive media and technology innovation. So, this week, we brought together a small group of NMV investors for a day and a half retreat to do just that.
Six ideas in particular had some momentum from the group, so we thought we would share to our broader community some seeds of ideas we’ve been kicking around at NMV.
1) People Powered Innovation Fund:
Small dollar donors, enabled by technology, have fundamentally changed fundraising in everything from the arts to political campaigns. What if small dollar donors could pool funds to provide risk capital for early stage progressive media and tech startups? Now that we have the NMV Innovation Fund in place, set up as a Donor Advised Fund, we could potentially open it up to small dollar donors. Imagine if the whole progressive movement– small dollar donors alongside large foundations– could pool funding for risky new ideas that have a harder time raising money. It would be totally awesome.
2) Funding Verticals within the Innovation Fund:
As our focus is on media and technology innovation, New Media Ventures tends to be issue agnostic. Media and technology funding can be challenging, as many funders are focused on a specific issue or cause. But what if we had verticals within the NMV Innovation Fund– like for projects focused on climate change or voting or civic engagement in low-income areas? We’re taking inspiration from our colleagues at Echoing Green, who designate separate Climate Fellowships and Black Male Achievement Fellowships.
Everyone loves winning a prize. And, institutions from Netflix to Pepsi to the Knight Foundation are increasingly using prizes to stimulate innovation or to solve a particular problem. We also know that prizes can have downsides, too, and anyone running a prize competition needs to be clear-eyed about how to run one effectively. We got excited about the idea of a prize for voting technology or for making the redistricting process more fair and equitable.
4) Tech Adoption:
We talked a lot about the challenge entrepreneurs have testing their tools with real customers, and the related challenge facing customers– often nonprofit ED’s with limited budgets and staff time– as they try to navigate the tech landscape. We think there could potentially be a role to play in facilitating the adoption of the technologies we fund. It could look like anything from a ramped up New Tools Shootout focused on customers, or a nifty infographic on how various tools can work together. Or, perhaps we need to encourage the entrepreneurs we fund to market how their tools integrate with others, to make the tech landscape less confusing for customers.
This is a big one for us at NMV, as we know our community is our most underutilized asset. Mentor relationships have been largely ad-hoc within the community, and we frankly have not had the capacity to focus more staff time on mentorship. How do we systematically connect entrepreneurs to the right mentors? How do we create expectations for both entrepreneurs and investors to share the responsibility for making a mentorship relationship work?
6) Sharing what we’re learning:
We hear over and over again that early stage financing can feel like a black box, so we are really committed to sharing more about what we are learning at NMV. From blog posts (hey! we’re already doing it!) to white papers to case studies, we can provide a service to both funders and entrepreneurs simply by sharing information that we learn from our role as both a funder and intermediary.
We’re not sure we should do all or any of these things, but we think it is important to just get these out there so people can see what we’re wrestling with.
In the meantime, we’ve got the NMV Innovation Fund to launch!