News Startup Fund

News Startup Fund. By Indiegraf, in partnership with the Google News Initiative. Knight Foundation and McConnell Foundation.

The News Startup Fund is a hands-on, progressive funding model for news startups that pairs painless capital with direct support. This scale-up of our Indie Capital grant program is built to fit the unique needs of small, independent news startups that need access to growth funding to realize their potential growth.

The News Startup Fund offers grants to independent publishers at four growth stages, unlocking additional funding as they grow and hit key milestones with Indiegraf’s support. Each News Startup Fund grant provides a combination of direct capital, marketing budget and Indiegraf services. Here’s a breakdown of each funding stage:

The News Startup Fund is an expansion of Indie Capital, an Indiegraf program that has so far provided $1 million in seed funding to small news publishers pioneering new business models. This $3.5 million scale-up is made possible through the support of the Google News Initiative, Knight Foundation and McConnell Foundation. By providing seed capital and hands-on support for journalist entrepreneurs, the News Startup Fund aims to lower the barrier to entry to media ownership for a more equitable and rich media ecosystem.

Indiegraf will release funds every quarter and review eligible applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. U.S. and Canada-based news startups are eligible to apply. Anyone who applies after all available funds are disbursed in a quarter will be considered when funds are available the following quarter.

Funding Availability

Here is how much funding is still available for Q4 — up to Dec. 31, 2022.

Available funds:

0%

Q4 funding has been assigned. Applications will reopen early 2023.

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Below you’ll find more information on the News Startup Fund, the application process and eligibility requirements. You can also jump to the application form.


FAQ

🧩 It’s more than funding: News startups need more than funding to succeed. That’s why the News Startup Fund provides a combination of direct grants, marketing budgets and hands-on services. All fund recipients join the Indiegraf network, gaining access to the tools, expertise and capacity needed to maximize their audience and revenue growth. Grantees will also benefit from access to the Google News Initiative’s free business training, consulting and implementation support.

🔓 It’s progressive: Once grantees join the Indiegraf network, Indiegraf team members roll up their sleeves to help implement various growth strategies. As publishers hit key growth benchmarks, they can unlock further funding opportunities across four progressive growth stages. A publication that is funded at all four stages may be eligible for a maximum of $157,000 in funding and in-kind Indiegraf services over 18 to 24 months.

🎯 It’s timely: The News Startup Fund is designed to provide “just-in-time” funds, giving journalist-entrepreneurs access to growth capital when they need it, and without time-consuming application processes. We aim to make quick funding decisions based on the applicant’s audience and revenue data.

⏳ It’s ongoing: To ensure a continuous flow of investment for the independent news ecosystem, grants will be disbursed on a first-come-first-served, rolling basis over a three-year period. Each quarter, Indiegraf will release a new tranche of funding available to those interested in joining the network.

🪢 It prioritizes equity: In an effort to build a more equitable media ecosystem, one where everyone has access to culturally pertinent, historically informed journalism, the News Startup Fund favors underrepresented founders.

The News Startup Fund is open to all journalist-entrepreneurs, no matter their stage of growth. Basic eligibility criteria includes:

✅ Overall requirements

  • Your publication is based in the U.S. and/or Canada.
  • You have identified a clear information need or have audience traction
  • Your publication focuses on local news, media criticism or community information that is relevant to the general public. Business-to-business news and industry-specific outlets are unlikely to qualify
  • You produce high-impact content your target audience won’t find elsewhere in the market
  • You are committed to equitable coverage and truth-telling
  • You intend to grow frequency, distribution and your team as the operation grows
  • You are enthusiastic about growing organic audience via social media and/or in-person events
  • You are willing to pursue audience revenue and are interested in other revenue streams (sponsorships/ads, major gifts, events, listings, etc.)
  • You meet our technical requirements (see below)
  • You are an Indiegraf network partner or want to join our network

⬆️ We will give special consideration to your application if…

  • Your publication serves underserved and/or underreported communities
  • You identify as a person of color or other underrepresented group in the journalism industry

News Startup Fund funding stages are assigned depending on two things: stage of growth and whether you have worked with Indiegraf before.

Newcomers to the Indiegraf network are eligible for funding stages 1 & 2. If you’ve worked with Indiegraf before or are an active network member, you may be eligible for all funding stages.

These are the metrics we look at as we assess applications to determine the appropriate stage:

  • Publishing frequency
  • Quality and impact of coverage
  • Number of newsletter subscribers
  • Newsletter open rate
  • Monthly website users
  • Conversion rate of audience to paying member
  • Monthly recurring revenue
  • Revenue streams
  • Paying supporters
  • Audience acquisition costs (cost per new subscriber)
  • Technical requirements fit

If you’re early in your growth or don’t yet have all of these metrics to share, don’t fret! Stage 1 and 2 are designed to help publishers generate the data and hit the growth milestones they need to be eligible for additional funding.

No. As you hit the key milestones, you will be welcome to apply for the appropriate stage of funding. Funding decisions are made on a rolling basis, so funding availability will impact our ability to approve additional funding.

Having supported the growth of more than 80 publishers, we know that it takes more than funding and advice to succeed. Publishers also need the capacity to implement growth strategies. That’s where the Indiegraf services portion of the News Startup Fund comes in.

All successful applicants will be assigned an Indiegraf Publisher Guide, who will help them develop their growth strategy and budget as well as access the services needed to implement the plan, pulling in experts from the Indiegraf team to roll up their sleeves and help. Example tactics include automated email marketing to move subscribers down the audience funnel, testing marketing messages via social media campaigns, paid advertising campaigns to grow email lists and local advertising strategies – the list goes on.

🌱 Stages 1 (Prototype) and 2 (Proof-of-concept) include standardized service bundles built from our experience on early stage growth. 

🌳 Stages 3 (Grow) and 4 (Accelerate and diversify) are bespoke. We will customize the services you receive to meet your specific needs and growth strategy.

Here are the approximate times and objectives for each funding stage:

Stage 1: Prototype

Value of services $2,000 – typically 2-3 months

  • Gain understanding of your community’s information needs
  • Prototype product
  • Earn your first subscribers

Stage 2: Proof-of-concept

Value of services $4,500 – typically 3-4 months

  • Evolve product & engagement to reach “product-market fit”
  • Reach 1,000 subscribers
  • Test your audience’s willingness to pay

Stage 3 – Grow

Value of services $10,000 – typically 6 months

  • Scale up content & audience
  • Enhance operations
  • Build a growing recurring reader revenue model

Stage 4 – Diversify and Accelerate

Value of services $15,000 – typically 6-12 months

  • Continue scaling audience & reader revenue
  • Launch new revenue streams: ads, major gifts, events

We recognize that founders usually know what they need better than we do. When your funding is approved, you’ll meet with an Indiegraf staffer to develop a growth strategy and budget collaboratively. 
Here are some options:

💰Direct grant:

  • Hire freelancers to increase your coverage and frequency
  • Hire contract editors to expand your team’s capacity
  • Editorial budget for a specific series
  • Increased frequency
  • Expanding your product
  • Launching a new product

🎯Marketing budget:

  • Paid acquisition on social media 
  • Outreach activities
  • Events or other audience building activities

Indie Capital funding is flexible since we understand that your strategy may need to shift during the grant period in order to respond to the needs of your audience.

News Startup Fund grants are flexible and based on collaborative work between you and the Indiegraf team. We require grantees to:

  • Become a member of the Indiegraf network during the period of the growth program
  • Participate in monthly hour-long meetings to review strategy and implementation
  • Respond to inquiries from the Indiegraf team within 24-36 hours, excluding weekends and holidays
  • Providing feedback and approvals quickly while we’re executing your campaigns together
  • Provide admin access to social media accounts, DNS Settings and domain provider login credentials
  • Report on your progress via a simple survey on a quarterly basis

Of course! We will be happy to work with you once more. Depending on the program and outcomes of our previous work together, you may be eligible for any of the funding stages.

Yes, you can! We are currently working on supporting bilingual outlets, and will assess bilingual applicants on a case-by-case basis. We don’t, however, have the capacity to process applications in French or Spanish (yet!), so please be sure to fill out your application in English.

Joining the Indiegraf network means establishing a partnership for us to work together on your growth. To ensure Indiegraf can provide its tools and services sustainably, publishers pay a monthly fee based on their needs. There are several tiers of Indiegraf membership. If your funding application is approved, your proposal will include a recommendation for the appropriate tier of service. You can use some of your grant capital to pay if needed.

You don’t have to use Indiegraf’s content management system in order to participate in the News Startup Fund, although we recommend that you do. We find that publishers can often save money and realize more growth by using Indiegraf’s integrated tools rather than piecing together different vendors. Learn more about Indiegraf’s all-in-one platform here. That said, we do have some requirements:

🔧Technical requirements

To effectively support your growth, we need some features to be available within your tech stack. Indiegraf works best when your tech stack includes:

  • Content Management System: WordPress or Ghost
    • While Ghost CMS users are eligible for Stages 1 & 2, publishers must be willing to migrate to Indie Tech, our custom WordPress theme, to be eligible for Stages 3 & 4 funding.
  • Email Service Provider: Mailchimp
    • We can also work with ActiveCampaign or Letterhead (Tiny News Collective publishers only), but it may cost extra
    • Ghost publishers working with Outpost are also eligible to apply for Stages 1 & 2, but must be willing to migrate to Mailchimp to be eligible for Stages 3 & 4 funding
    • Mailchimp is required for full-service support
  • Data Analytics Tool: Google Analytics (Universal Analytics + GA4)
  • Payment processor: Stripe
  • The tools we definitely can’t work with are Revue, Substack and Paypal.
  • You can read more about the technical requirements for working with Indiegraf in our FAQ page.
  • If you’re currently using a tool Indiegraf doesn’t integrate with, you can apply for funding and decide whether to migrate once you know the result of your application. (We’ve never met a migration we couldn’t handle.)
  • If you meet some, but not all, of these technical requirements, send us an email to discuss our working options.

⚙️Fiscal sponsor requirements

Indiegraf requires secure, administrative-level access to a payment processor to effectively support partner publishers. Most fiscal sponsors are unable to share this high-level access, and we cannot effectively navigate campaign work without that data visibility. As a result, Indiegraf cannot work long-term with a publication that is already supported by another fiscal sponsor. However, we do offer fiscal sponsorship via a partnership with Tiny News Collective, potentially saving money and adding services in the process using MonkeyPod and Stripe.

  1. You submit your application
  2. Our Publisher Success Team assesses your application and reaches out to you
  3. If you meet the basic eligibility requirements, we will schedule a 30-minute interview to learn more about your project. If you don’t, we’ll offer some resources and recommendations for future eligibility
  4. The Publisher Success Team will share a brief proposal to the Indie Capital Selection Committee for approval
  5. If approved, we will send a proposal for you to consider. If not, we will provide resources and recommendations for future eligibility
  6. If you accept the proposal, we’ll sort out all the paperwork and onboard you to Indiegraf finance systems.
  7. You’ll be assigned an Indiegraf contact to build a Growth Strategy to help reach your goals. This will involve developing a budget and targets for your funding
  8. Once we’ve settled on a Growth Strategy, Indiegraf will deposit your grant directly in your bank account, and we will start working together to implement the plan.
  9. As you hit the targets identified in your Growth Strategy, you may become eligible for further funding and may submit a new application.

Indiegraf will release funding every quarter and announce new calls for applications via our newsletter, Indie Publisher. If the application form is open, it means we’re accepting applications! If not, we recommend that you sign up to Indie Publisher to get updates on the News Startup Fund.

If you are wondering how much funding is available at the moment, see the “Funding Availability” bar above. You are welcome to apply even if the bar is at 0% – your application will be considered for the next quarter. Eligible applicants will be reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

If you’ve previously received Indie Capital or News Startup Fund funding, you may reapply for further funds as soon as you are eligible for a new stage.

🌱 Newcomers to the Indiegraf network are eligible for funding stages 1 & 2 and will be selected by Indiegraf’s Publisher Success team based on predetermined eligibility requirements. 

🌳 Applicants for funding stages 3 & 4 will be selected by the Indie Capital Selection Committee, which includes: 

  • Erin Millar, Indiegraf CEO
  • Caitlin Havlak, CTO
  • Allison McIlymoyl, Senior Manager of Development and Sponsorship
  • Rachel Chen, Senior Manager of Audience Strategy

⬆️ We will give special consideration to your application if…

  • Your publication serves underserved and/or underreported communities
  • You identify as a person of color or other underrepresented group in the journalism industry

Unequitable representation in media didn’t happen overnight. It is the result of systemic inequalities that have prevented underrepresented founders from accessing the opportunities and resources needed to thrive in this industry. Indie Capital recognizes these inequalities and intends to address them by paying special attention to founders that are typically underrepresented in the industry or projects that serve underserved communities or underreported areas.

The recent three-year, $3.5M scale-up of Indie Capital was made possible by the generous support of our funding partners:


Application

We have paused applications as we continue to evaluate and respond to current applicants. We will re-open applications soon. We encourage you to stay tuned for future News Startup Fund calls via our newsletter, Indie Publisher.

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