By Van Tieu
Investors are from Mars and journalists are from Venus. And Mariella Meyers knew she needed some major interplanetary translation.
For three years, Meyers had nurtured an idea she believes could revolutionize local news– a business that focused on customizable mobile local newscasts. But she had no business background, only 14 years on news production.
So Meyers went looking for a way to learn how to sell investors on the idea. She found it at AAJA with the New U Entrepreneurship program for journalists. Its mission is to teach journalists how to create a sustainable business model and how to pitch it effectively.
“We want to level the playing field. The only way you can do that is to speak the language of investors,” say Doug Mitchell, co-director of New U.
From basic economics to presentation, participants got a two-day crash course introduction into the world of business and how to conquer it.
“We’re helping to create a brand from scratch to these budding entrepreneurs who used to be journalists,” says Alli Joseph, co-director of New U.
And the business boot-camp is the real deal. Five thousand dollars are at stake for the participants. Immediately following the workshops, each mentee taped a 15-minute presentation and a 30-second elevator pitch of for a panel of judges. This fall, AAJA members will be able to view the videos and vote for the winner.
“It is kind of set up like American Idol,” Mitchell explained.
Myers had just three weeks to put together her presentation. While juggling her day-time job, her two young sons, and a start-up production company, Myers polished her idea into a viable business model during lunch breaks and late nights at Starbucks.
“After giving my presentation, I even made changes to my elevator speech based on the critique the judges gave me,” says Myers.
Teaching journalists of color the ins and outs of the business side is key in ensuring diversity in media. There is a noticeable gap in the type of in the type of people who receive funding for start-up businesses, says Mitchell. Of all venture capital companies, whites represent 87 percent, while Asians make up 12 percent, and blacks one percent, according to CB Insights research firm.
In part, New U was also created because of the economic downturn. As lay-offs were plaguing the industry, journalists of color were being swept out the door, says Doug.
New U provides a chance for journalists to create their own opportunities.
After days of intensive coaching, Myers said she’s seen that first hand.
“I used to joke with people that, ‘I only do news. I only do editorial’,” says Myers, “I’ve been in this world for so long. Business people are a whole different breed of people.”
Now, Myers is able to speak their language.