A body positivity website.
An enhanced set of platforms for a working-mom podcast.
A networking site for freelancers.
A food money-saving app for young adults.
What do all these things have in common?
They’re products pitched by students from the MEJO 463: Creating Tomorrow’s News Products course in the Reese News Lab at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media—just one more example of the hands-on learning offered at Hussman to equip future leaders for the industry.
“In the current work economy, there’s a great need for creative thinkers,” said Steven King, chief innovation officer of the Reese News Lab. “If you’re going to solve a problem, you’ve got to get your hands in there and solve the problem.”
Students do just that throughout the MEJO 463 course, which stresses entrepreneurship and innovation, creating concepts that they develop into pitch-ready plans by the semester’s end
On Pitch Day—which took place earlier this semester in Carroll Hall’s Freedom Forum Conference Center—students pitch their concepts to a panel of industry professionals, who then judge the viability of the products.
There’s no “winner” at the event’s end, but students get real-world feedback on the feasibility of their plans.
“News Lab is an opportunity for students to develop and test their ideas for the future of media. They learn about identifying a problem, thinking through potential solutions, and then investigating how they might build it and establish a business model to sustain it,” said Teaching Associate Professor Kate Sheppard, the course’s instructor.
Pitch Day judges this year included:
Becca Fiely, a member of the team that created BoPo, a website of aggregated, personalized body-positive media content, called the course a safe space to flex her entrepreneurship skills.
“I’m able to have these real-life experiences with a very low risk but very real feedback and criticisms, and I feel like that has been such an invaluable opportunity,” Fiely said.
The BoPo website features different forms of positive self-image media, including books, movies, tv shows, articles, blogs and clothing brands on the topics of food, self-care, fashion, fitness and news. The topics also feature comment sections in an effort to create dialogue with users.
Learn more about BoPo:
The event’s other pitches included:
Expanded community and membership platforms of The Double Shift, an existing local podcast. This Pitch Day team was tasked with building a model for growing the podcast’s paid membership from 168 to 500 members a month.
Bylined, a platform for connecting and evaluating freelancers and news outlets in a way that encourages fair and transparent wage practices in a media market increasingly dominated by contract work.
Nudge, an app that helps young adults develop better spending and saving habits with a price comparison tool that helps users make smarter spending choices on eating out, using relevant information based on price and location.
“The course gave us a much better understanding of the emotional rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship and also proved to us that we are capable of overcoming even the most challenging circumstances,” said Torin Edwards, a member of the Bylined team.
During Pitch Day, students also learned how to handle questions from the event’s guest judges, which mirrored concerns potential funders and investors would have in the real world.
“How fast would they need to move to become viable? Where are the customers?” Those are the questions judge Greg Morey, CEO of City News Beat, thought about as each group presented their pitches, noting he looked for adaptability within the teams’ product models and realistic notions of revenue timelines.
Nikita Shamdasani, co-founder and CEO of Sani, also made note of the teams’ branding visuals and public speaking ease during their presentations, which are also important tools in successfully pitching any product.
Shamdasani, a 2015 graduate of UNC who majored in political science, appreciated the opportunity to take part as a guest judge.
“UNC did so much for me. Whatever I can do to start giving back is important, and the students’ work keeps me inspired,” Shamdasani said.