Apply for the June cohort of the Indie News Challenge

We’re looking for journalist-entrepreneurs from across North America.

Have you ever wanted to start your own news outlet? Applications are now open for the June cohort of the Indie News Challenge, Indiegraf’s flagship accelerator to help independent digital media launch and grow. The deadline for applications is May 20.

With more than just newspapers across North America shuttering during COVID-19, entrepreneurship and innovation are urgently needed to fill gaps. But media ownership can’t only be for people who can code or have buckets of money — it’s for anyone who believes in the mission of journalism.

We can help you do it. Here’s how. 

What is the Indie News Challenge?

Over nine weeks, a group of journalist-entrepreneurs work together to build community news products from as early as the idea stage to attracting their first subscribers and readers. Through weekly Zoom seminars, exercises, one-on-one feedback and a community of like-minded peers, you’ll develop your idea into a prototype with early traction and a clear plan you can share with potential funders, partners and members.

Here’s how Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson, co-publishers of Peterborough Currents, described the experience: “We launched our newsletter, attracted a large audience of email subscribers, gained motivation and energy for our product, secured some funding, learned how to think strategically about our product and revenue streams and received lots of encouragement. Wow!”

Who is the Indie News Challenge for?

We are currently accepting project ideas from startup and established publishers in Canada and the United States. If you’re ready to start sharing your idea with the world, the Indie News Challenge is for you. We especially encourage BIPOC journalists and storytellers to apply. We are committed to supporting the growth of Black, Indigenous and POC-owned media.

What does the Indie News Challenge cost?

The full cost per participant is $5,000. Thanks to our funding partners, we can offer the Indie News Challenge at a subsidized fee of $500. Equity is important to us, so we never want cost to prevent people from becoming journalist-entrepreneurs. Grants are available to those for whom cost is a barrier to participation.

What is the time commitment required?

The time commitment required is approximately eight hours per week for nine weeks.

What does the program look like?

  • Seminars: Every week, we will host a 90-minute group seminar via video conference on topics including defining audience, competitive analysis, product development, value proposition and messaging, designing a campaign to test demand, analyzing data and other topics.
  • Activities: Each seminar will lead to an activity you will be asked to complete by the end of that week. Activities will include tasks like doing interviews with community members to understand their information needs or developing messaging to describe your value proposition. They may take several hours to complete.
  • One-on-one feedback: You will send us the results of your activity each week. We’ll provide one-on-one feedback in either written format or a 30-minute call.
  • Sharing learnings: You will share what you learned from the exercise with others in the cohort through Slack and our weekly calls.
  • Campaign: The exercises will build up to a small campaign to test your assumptions about demand for your product. You will invite your target audience to subscribe to a newsletter or contribute financially or whatever call-to-action makes sense for the stage of your project. This will provide an opportunity to rapidly iterate on your value proposition as well as generate data that can inform your projections about audience and revenue. We’ll provide a small grant to fund digital marketing costs and roll up our sleeves to help produce this campaign, as needed.
  • Output: You’ll capture your analysis based on each week’s exercises in a slide deck that will concisely describe the opportunity you have identified and how your new product will fill it. This output will help you produce funding proposals or present to investors, following the program.
  • Presenting your vision: Once you’ve successfully completed the program, you’ll have an opportunity to present your slide deck and vision to a wider group at an upcoming Indie News Showcase. We will invite potential funders, partners and other news entrepreneurs from our networks (and yours too, if you like) who can provide helpful feedback, make connections and contribute to your next steps.

What can you expect to accomplish during the Indie News Challenge?

Here are a few examples of how journalist-entrepreneurs advanced their projects through the Indie News Challenge.

  • IndigiNews surveyed community members on their information needs, developed their strategy and launched their website.
  • Peterborough Currents launched a weekly newsletter, grew their first 1,500 subscribers, and laid the foundation for a Founding Member campaign, which generated more than $20,000 in funding.
  • Sun Peaks Independent News saved its community news service by pivoting its print, advertising business model to digital, membership-based as local ad revenues collapsed during the first wave of COVID-19.
  • La Converse grew its newsletter subscribers, and conducted market research that contributed to a funding proposal that secured multiple grants.
  • Sask Dispatch launched a Founding Member campaign that generated over $10,000 from readers to fund their website build.
  • The Resolve launched its newsletter, grew its first 2,000 subscribers and developed a clear plan that secured seed funding.

What else do Indie News Challenge publishers get?

Participating in the Indie News Challenge also gets you ongoing access to the Indiegraf community, where you can learn and connect with other Indiegraf publishers via our Slack workspace and virtual events.

Projects that successfully complete the Indie News Challenge qualify for discounts on Indie Tech, Indiegraf’s powerful, beautiful and cost-effective CMS, and Indie Engine, analytics and digital marketing services designed for small publishers. Projects may also qualify for funding from Indie Capital following completion of the program.

More questions? 

Fantastic — that’s what we’re here for. Drop CEO and co-founder Erin Millar a line here


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