Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Julie Menter
Grassroots activists and frontline organizers have responded to the election of President Trump in remarkably innovative ways—building technology, media, and movements to protect vulnerable populations and uphold democratic values. In the face of daunting threats, we’ve seen the rise of new players in the tech-meets-innovation space, using the internet and building new tools to empower people to engage more fully in our democracy.
These entrepreneurs and activists recognize that we need new ways to organize, mobilize volunteers, tell our stories, and change hearts and minds; we need smarter tools for campaigns to create and place digital ads, news ways to combat misinformation, more progressive media platforms, and seamless data integration for organizers.
However, there are few reliable sources of early-stage funding for these innovative projects. Too many entrepreneurs and activists struggle to find the support they need, and for founders who don’t come from privileged backgrounds—often people of color and white women, who lack access to “friends and family” rounds—there are even more obstacles.
Put simply: there’s not enough early stage, risk-tolerant funding available to entrepreneurs and activists to experiment, learn, pivot and scale.
That’s where we come in.
New Media Ventures (NMV) is a seed fund and angel network that invests in entrepreneurs and activists wrestling with the biggest challenges of our time—not just in the vacuum of election cycles—but year-round every year. We leverage our unique vantage point and long-term experience to support founders, funders, and the field in the most open, transparent and accessible way possible.
Led by women, NMV has mobilized more than $50 million to more than 70 startups over the last decade, from Upworthy to PushBlack to Indivisible and Pantsuit Nation. Our goal is to shift the balance of power in the United States to benefit more people, and we do that by focusing on three areas where innovation can make a huge difference.
First, we invest in movement building: supporting organizations that are bringing people together to advocate for racial, gender, and environmental justice. Second, because we know culture shift has the power to accelerate social change, we invest in narrative, content creation and storytelling. For example, one of our 2018 investments, Swayable, uses AI and survey experiments to test how content changes people’s minds. And third, we focus on boosting civic engagement: getting people registered and turning them out to vote for the issues and candidates that reflect their values. After we invested in Long Distance Voter in 2015, it went on to become Vote.org, got into Y Combinator, and in 2018, registered 1.5 million voters and ran the largest peer-to-peer SMS GOTV drive in America.
Making great investments starts with building a strong pipeline. Our annual open call focuses on reaching as many people as possible, looking for companies and organizations we wouldn’t otherwise know about; projects where the right support at the right time—and by that, we mean early—can make a huge difference. Because we know that great leaders and ideas aren’t limited to any one sector, we will consider applications from for-profits, nonprofits, c3s, c4s, and 527s.
For more than half of these organizations, we are their first institutional funder, and our early investment gives grantees the validation and runway they need to go on to great things: Coworker.org hosted the Summit on Worker Voice with President Obama; Blavity went on to participate in 500 Startups and raise a round of funding with Google Ventures; Mijente has been a major player in the #notechforICE movement, pressuring big tech to stop helping DHS and ICE target immigrants. By connecting diverse leaders with the resources they need to scale, we can help secure short-term victories while also building long-term power.
Because we know founders need more than just money to thrive, we also provide strategic support and access to a robust community of founders who have navigated the ups and downs of a startup and can share their hard-won expertise. Through timely content delivery and coaching, we help new leaders anticipate common pitfalls and plan for impact and growth.
This month, we will announce our 2019 investments in a range of frontline organizing groups, progressive tech ventures, new media startups, and democracy infrastructure organizations. We will provide up to $250,000 to each group and connect them to our community of aligned donors and angel investors, with the goal of catalyzing additional support at this critical moment.
These new leaders are developing the innovative approaches we’ll need to tackle the enormous challenges facing our democracy. They are moving us toward a more sustainable and equitable future. Over the last few years, we’ve seen powerful movements mobilize at scale, civic engagement soar, and progressive ideas expand in reach and popularity. We’re proud of the early support we provided to help enable these victories. But we can’t stop now.
By building connections across the field in 2019 and 2020, NMV will work to ensure innovation doesn’t stay siloed, but gets adopted broadly in order to make the biggest impact. And by seeking out diverse perspectives and lifting up underrepresented leaders, we’ll continue to bring an equity lens to every facet of the funding process.
After all, the stronger and more resilient the organizations we invest in, the better the world we’re building together.
Julie Menter is the Managing Director of New Media Ventures. Throughout her career, Julie has searched for opportunities to make a positive impact on the world around her. As a strategy consultant, first with the Boston Consulting Group and then with Blu Skye Sustainability Consulting, she has worked with large companies and non-profit organizations to redefine what good business means.