Why The Irish Times fancies itself as a startup incubator

BBC Worldwide is not the only Big Media organisation to host and mentor new tech startups at its headquarters this summer.

The Irish Times also just started its Digital Challenge – an eight-week programme in which it is giving desk space to and getting to know five fledgling ideas…

  1. MyIFli.com – a simple mobile website creator
  2. Storyflow – visualises news story events
  3. PicTurk – amateur photography contest platform
  4. KnockOn.ie – grassroots rugby community
  5. GetBulb – data graphics creator

Irish startup incubator NDRC LaunchPad is running the project with the 153-year-old newspaper’s new chief innovation officer Johnny Ryan. Arthur Cox and KPMG are each providing €10,000 in legal and consulting fees. Each startup will get to pitch at Dublin Web Summit and receive advice from a range of outside personalities.

The winning startup will receive Irish Times marketing worth €10,000 and, perhaps most importantly, a convertible loan note for €50,000 investment from DFJ Esprit. Ryan tells paidContent:

“I remember being involved in a startup that had a great technology but could not get users. What we needed was something like this – it would have saved us going to VCs to get cash to buy ads/attention to secure eye balls.

“Large organisations like The Irish Times when I arrived six months ago, they have a very narrow bandwidth to work with startups. We needed to take some major steps internally to widen that, and to lower the barriers to outside ideas.”

Part of the aim may be to kickstart Ireland’s tech economy, which has benefitted from large overseas factory and office locations but which has struggled to generate ideas that reach large audiences; but The Times is not doing this out of the goodness of its heart…

The newspaper is hoping to get to use some of the products being developed during the programme, as it – like all publishers – faces its own migration challenges. And, doubtless, it can learn plenty from the upstarts.

Some of the ideas aren’t necessarily brand new, but several could be of use in an Irish context – notably to the Times or other online news publishers. For example (I’m speculating here), MyIFli.com could, in theory, be marketed to Irish Times advertisers who need simple mobile websites.