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Jun. 20, 2012 11:30 am

Project Liberty: how first of $250k startup incubator grant was spent

Administered by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners and led by the Philadelphia Media Network, the publisher of the city's two largest newspapers and Philly.com which has since been again sold, the incubator was meant to bring new media ethos into old newsrooms.

Updated: 11:51 a.m. 6/25/12, with clarification from Project Liberty.

This month, the first three startups housed at the Project Liberty Digital Incubator moved out of the Inquirer building, where they were part of an ‘experiment’ funded by a $250,000 Knight Foundation grant. Soon they’ll announce their next class.

Enlarge the above graph here.

Administered by the Ben Franklin Technology Partners and led by the Philadelphia Media Network, the publisher of the city’s two largest newspapers and Philly.com which has since been again sold, the incubator was meant to bring new media ethos into old newsrooms. [Updated: Since the April takeover, Project Liberty is led by the new ownership company: Interstate General Media LLC (IGM)]

Next week, Technically Philly will publish a deeper look at the first of three planned incubator classes through the experimental grant. But first, when a handful of transparency-focused organizations get involved in a startup incubator, an opportunity exists to peek under the financial covers. So we wanted to share.

First, the $250,000 grant is planned to be spent roughly evenly across three classes, said Ben Franklin Technology Partners Vice President Terrence Hicks, meaning roughly $83,000 per six month session.

Although BFTP is responsible for administering the entire grant, BFTP and IGM share responsibility for making Project Liberty-related expenditures. See the pie chart above for the full funding break down, but here are some clearer points on how the money was divvied up:

Of the $83,000 for this first class:

  • Hicks said about 45 percent of the funds were “for incubator and grant management,”
  • Of that 45 percent, BFTP took about 15 percent of the cut — a little more than $5,500 — to pay for the paper pushing and administration
  • Of that 45 percent, IGM took the other 85 percent — about $32,000 — to pay for an onsite incubator manager. As of publication, the hiring process for that position is still ongoing, Hicks told Technically Philly, so IGM used some of the money to pay for an IT staffer to help the company out with the equipment, but no Knight money was used for this role, Hicks said. Hicks says the extra money will roll over to the next two classes.
  • The other 55 percent of the funds — nearly $46,000 — were “for services and support to incubat[e] companies,” Hicks said. BFTP used about 25 percent — less than $12,000 — of that money to pay for the workshops, presentations and other programming offered to the startups.
  • IGM used the other three quarters of the nearly $46,000 remaining to pay Drexel for the co-op partnership that provided student interns to each company. Updated: “A total of $96K is budgeted for Drexel co-op students over the two year Knight grant. Only approximately $18K has been spent to date,” updated Hicks.

On Monday, look for a deeper look into the program.

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Yael Borofsky was the lead reporter for Technically Philly from from December 2011 to June 2012 before leaving to pursue an urban studies graduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously she was an editor with the Breakthrough Journal in San Francisco. She loves hockey and coffee.

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