Digital incubator at Philly media site gets $345K in funding

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced today that it will inject $345,000 in a new round of funding for a digital business incubator in the same building as The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com.

The Project Liberty Digital Incubator is housed amid the newsrooms at Interstate General Media's offices at 8th and Market Streets in Philadelphia. IGM publishes The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Philly.com.

Project Liberty, launched in 2011, was the first of its kind to reside within a traditional media company. Other media outlets, including The New York Times and Boston Globe have followed suit, according to a Knight Foundation press release.

“Project Liberty has shown that connecting entrepreneurship with the newsroom can help create a culture of innovation and risk-taking in journalism. The model directly benefits communities by improving the quantity and quality of information, so that people can make educated decisions on issues they care about,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president of journalism and media innovation. “As the birthplace of Project Liberty, Philadelphia was the first to benefit from the incubator. With its energy and diversity the city proved to be the right breeding ground, and it is the right place to further grow and improve this model.”

The incubator launched as a project of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania in order to establish a community of startups in Philadelphia and foster newsroom innovation. The goal remains to promote “innovation and adoption of new technologies as a way to provide communities the information they need,” the Knight announcement states.

Under the incubator, startups receive six months of rent-free space at 8th and Market. The startups also receive mentoring, equipment and technical and administrative support. They gain access to Philly.com, Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com as a platform to launch products.

The Knight Foundation supported the incubator as a test model. The new round of funding will help the incubator attract entrepreneurs and additional public and private funding. DreamIt Ventures and Drexel University are also partners in Project Liberty.

“Project Liberty’s next phase builds upon its eight successful alumni, which have raised more than $6 million, and include DreamIt Ventures graduates, Ben Franklin portfolio companies and companies who have developed partnerships with IGM. Moving forward, we are excited to involve other community media outlets in the program,” said RoseAnn B. Rosenthal, president and CEO of Ben Franklin.

“The media industry is now fully embracing innovative methods for expanding digital business development; the Project Liberty Incubator, unprecedented in the media sector when it first launched, has now been replicated in other media companies throughout the United States,” said Bob Hall, publisher and CEO of Interstate General Media. “We continue to believe in the tremendous opportunity and entrepreneurship which it provides to our community, while also helping to engage audiences with new products and enhanced digital resources.”

Knight says that Philly.com has used several innovations from current and former incubator residents. For example, TapCLIQ’s mobile relationship management and advertising platform has been integrated into Philly.com’s mobile app, successfully attracting advertisers such as online grocer FreshDirect and Susquehanna Bank.

Read the full press release here.