Tonight, Philadelphia Media Network CEO Greg Osberg will be speaking at Mobile Monday, about his company’s recent launch of Android tablet subscriptions and the company’s incubator, dubbed “Project Liberty.” Both are the latest efforts to help reinvent PMN, owner and operator of The Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, as a digital-first news organization.
After a long lull between the announcement of the incubator and the Knight Foundation grant making the incubator a reality, PMN and partner Ben Franklin Technology Partners are moving quickly and are currently accepting applications.
We spoke with many of the partners involved to answer a few remaining questions about the city’s newest incubator. After the jump, see how much stake PMN will take in the companies and what kind of companies its looking for.
How much ownership will PMN take in Project Liberty companies?
It hasn’t even been decided if the Philadelphia Media Network or Ben Franklin Technology Partners is even going take any stake in the companies. The money will be allocated to offset the rent and a general business support structure provided by Ben Franklin Technology Partners and PMN.
“I think [CEO Greg Osberg] wants exposure to young companies and ideas,” said Hicks. “How better to do that than to have them located in the same building? The upside for him is exposure to these technologies.”
“If a company were to come up with a [good] idea we would consider that as a possible product,” said PMN spokesperson Mark Block. “As we all know, the way company sets up a product initially may not be what it ends up launching. We want some level of flexibility to see if its a good match.”
There is also no language that guarantees BFTP, Knight or PMN the right of first-refusal.
In the past, Knight has run into difficulty by not taking ownership stakes in companies that it funds.
What kind of companies will be selected?
The incubator will focus on companies that focus on three areas: ecommerce, mobile and apps. This philosophy goes hand-in-hand with the recent launch of Android tablets, the other component of Project Liberty.
Where will the companies come from?
Though the incubator is currently accepting applications [.docx link], Project Liberty has also tapped DreamIt Ventures to help supply the incubator with potential companies. Though the timing with DreamIt’s Fall class is a bit off, Managing Partner Kerry Rupp said that she could see some of the current DreamIt companies landing at Philadelphia Media Network after Demo Day in December.
“It’s not a great match with our program’s timing this time around,” wrote Rupp in an email to Technically Philly, “but DreamIt alumni companies can qualify – and hopefully future class dates will line up better.”
Other prospective companies could include those who didn’t make the cut into DreamIt, as well as candidates for the “DreamIt Plus” program, a joint effort by DreamIt and Ben Franklin to keep more DreamIt companies in Philadelphia after graduating.
How many companies will be there?
PMN says that it is required by the grant to have at least one company in the space and it doesn’t think the number will ever go over three. It’s entirely possible that there will be no “classes” of companies and more a revolving door over the next 24 months. The number of companies is largely affected by the incubator’s relationship with Drexel University.
The university is supplying co-op students to work with the incubated companies and the timing of its unique co-op schedule will be one of the primary factors in the timing of the incubator.
Who approves the applications?
Ben Franklin Technology Partners will be the entity that actually received the applications, and has assembled a review board that includes PMN CEO Greg Osberg, BFTP CEO RoseAnn Rosenthal and Drexel University Assistant Dean of Media Technologies Youngmoo Kim. DreamIt Ventures will also aid in the selection process.
“PMN doesn’t have their pulse on the young technology companies in the regain, but BFTP and DreamIt know more about identifying suitable applicants,” said Hicks.
Where will the incubator be located?
Despite the recent sale of the Inquirer building to Piazza developer Bart Blatstein, the incubator will be located at the company’s 400 N. Broad Headquarters on the fifth floor.
Why do this?
All partners spoke about the need to retain more technology and media companies in Philadelphia.
“PMN is committed to a digital transformation of media in the Philadelphia region and we are looking to send that message out to our readers and the business community,” said Block.
“Hopefully what will happen is that there will be lesson learned so this can be a model that can be replicated around the country,” said Hicks.
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