These 12 media startup ideas from Penn students are actually cool - Philly


Dec. 15, 2014 11:55 am

These 12 media startup ideas from Penn students are actually cool

An SMS messaging tool focused on Kenya and other developing countries won $7,500 in seed money from a Penn entrepreneurial journalism competition. Here are the other projects that also presented.

The winning idea was a Twitter-like mobile platform for distributing news and information in Kenya.

(Photo by Flickr user Erik (HASH) Hersman, used under a Creative Commons license)

First built as a simple group SMS message tool, some of Twitter’s fastest growing markets today are in Africa, perhaps most prominently in a place like Kenya, a relatively stable democracy in an often beleaguered portion of the continent. Levi Gikandi, a Penn senior and Kenyan native, wants to launch a throwback version of the social publishing tool to bolster crowdsourced community news in countries with less-established digital infrastructures.

He’s calling his project Sauti Yetu (not this one). Translated, the name means “Giving Voice To Our Potential.”

Gikandi won $7,500 in seed money in the third year of a student pitch competition that again closed out a University of Pennsylvania Entrepreneurial Journalism class taught by adjunct professor Sam Apple. (You can find last year’s presentations here. Last year’s winner appears to now be working for a Boston-based investor analytics company.)

One of a dozen projects in the class, Gikandi pitched his to a panel of judges, which, full disclosure, included this reporter, inside the Kelly Writers House on Penn’s Locust Walk. Gikandi described a stripped down, messaging tool similar to the early days of Twitter that could be trialed in his native Kenya for news dissemination and sourcing. The hope would be to find utility elsewhere in the developing world.

Gikandi’s presentation comes after the recent announcement from the Knight Foundation, Vice Media and the City University of New York of a $500,000 journalism innovation fund for news storytelling experiments around the world. His project coincides with that interest in transporting online community-building lessons learned in countries with widespread internet usage, like the United States, to ones still growing, like Kenya. (Gikandi should check out Diaspora Day in D.C.)


Here are the other projects that were pitched during the event:

  • Hub for Happiness (Callan Parra): a Lifehacker for happiness with a social network layer for readers that would encourage gratitude sharing.
  • oneLife (Matt Chan): a mobile app (with working prototype) for easily sharing content feeds bundled by topic. “Google Reader on steroids,” Chan said.
  • Alumnet (Nick Coetzee): a content-driven, private, university-specific recruiting and hiring-matchmaking service.
  • WriteForChange (Valentina Raman): a prompted journaling tool focused on building literacy and writing ability among students who could also provide education feedback. Example prompts included “When were you the most focused today?”
  • ImPrint (Steven Yoon): a goal-based, private photostream tool where users can update opt-in followers on their progress toward the completion of projects.
  • Syllabist (Tony Mei): a curated network of mini curriculum from intellectual-celebrities, who might share the books they’re reading, workflow processes and other tips and tricks and lessons.
  • Eyes and Ears (Corey Stern): an online magazine for younger people with hearing and vision impairments funded by sponsored content.
  • CatchUp (Corey Stern): a subscription-based service for college students to access curated notes from paid, in-classroom, peer note-takers.
  • Snap a City (Shamus Clancy): a geolocation-based photo sharing tool like Instagram that could have minimum character-length limits to encourage deeper quality.
  • Virtual Entertainment Think Tank (Peter Cooney and Kieron Smith): a consulting and think tank service for indie video game developers that would focus on issues like pricing strategy or development methodology. “Like Harvard Business Review for gaming” Smith said.
  • Writsy (Rachel Dinh): a marketplace for freelance writers to discover clients.

The panel of judges included Dan MaccaroneArt HoweSarah Adler and Chris Mustazza.

People: Sam Apple


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