When Matter was founded in 2012, the media industry was struggling in the face of huge changes in revenue models, technology, and audiences. The internet created a completely new playing field — one that allowed more voices to be heard, but also for a select few to make the rules.
While we’ve been working to create a more robust media ecosystem, our society has become more divided. You may have heard the stats — only 35% of Americans say they trust the media, and 16% say they have high confidence in the news they read online. It can be hard to tell what’s real in a world where news spreads more based on followers than facts.
Before each Matter class we come together with our partners, some of the world’s biggest media institutions, to identify which core themes we believe will make a real difference. As we sourced Matter Eight, we were on the lookout for start-ups focused on amplifying voices that aren’t always being heard; building secure technologies to protect free speech; rebuilding trust; moving beyond targeted advertising to new business models; harnessing emerging technologies like augmented reality and artificial intelligence to create new models for understanding and empathy; and creating ways for individuals and media companies to own their online identities and relationships.
We built our accelerator so that media entrepreneurs working in these spaces could test lots and lots of experiments in a supportive environment, through a human-centered, prototype-driven process. This year’s class is building ventures that speak truth to power, close the empathy gap, and take a radically inclusive approach to amplifying the voices of all people. We spent the last two weeks coming together as a community. Now we’re ready to get started.
Meet this year’s brave entrepreneurs. Meet Matter Eight.
Scriptd: A marketplace democratizing Hollywood.
Have you ever heard of the “Will and Grace Effect”? It’s what happened in the 90s when the hit show Will and Grace, with gay character leads, shifted societal attitudes about homosexuality. Denise Hewett, Esteban Gast, and Eugene Hauptman know the power of stories, and they know that right now in Hollywood, there are too many voices getting left out.
They’ve looked at a lot of numbers. Despite the fact that diverse, multi-dimensional characters would more closely resemble our diverse world, only 14% of writers are members of a minority ethnic group, Latinx have 3% speaking roles despite buying 23% of all movie tickets, and only 8% of directors, producers, editors and cinematographers are women — to name a few.
They’ve already optioned 7 films, 2 TV shows and a webseries (90% written by women and people of color) on their open community-based screenplay database and reader.
Scriptd is based in San Francisco. Read more.
Compass News: An AI editor to break the filter bubble.
Conceived amidst the anxiety of Brexit, Compass News has set out to restore to young news consumers that which is missing in the contemporary media ecosystem: headlines curated by factors other than your friends’ interests, a broad selection of articles from a variety of sources and viewpoints, and the time and resources to access quality journalism.
First, the team reinvented the newsfeed. They worked with over one thousand UK university students to co-design an app featuring the most important news of the day. Their team of journalists produce summaries that are quick-to-the-point but, crucially, come with the context intact.
Then, they scaled it, training an AI editor on hundreds of thousands of hand-picked articles until it gained the ability to make these curation decisions on its own — as well as to surface content that Compass News’ human editors missed. With that technology in hand, they’re setting their sights further, pursuing in-depth personalization while growing their user base on the promise of getting smarter, quicker.
Compass News is based in New York. Read more.
nēdl: Reach everyone everywhere with the power of audio.
Ayinde Alakoye has been in radio for 20 years. Since 2003, he’s been streaming live radio to mobile phones to make broadcasts accessible to everyone, everywhere. Now, he’s taking it a step further. He created nēdl with his co-founder Jason Medeiros to let anyone create a station and appear in a database that’s be searchable in real-time, just like a web browser search engine. Inspired by the lack of trust in the media and the current political landscape, Ayinde aims to democratize the microphone—giving real people a voice in a space where bots can’t hide.
nēdl is based in San Francisco. Read more.
reallyread.it: A social network powered by reading.
The founders of reallyread.it know whether you’ve really read an article on the internet (if you’ve opted in to their Chrome extension). They know if you just scanned the headline before posting it to Facebook. They know if you skimmed most of it before sharing it to all of your followers on Twitters. And if you didn’t really read it, but think you have something relevant to say about it in the comments section…think again.
On reallyread.it, you can only comment on an article once you’ve read it. From that simple premise, the team is building an online community of readers and commenters interested in having real discussion based on content. Along the way, they’re curating a collection of the best articles on the internet based on reading rate instead of virality. And there’s a lot more to come.
For now, try out the Chrome extension for yourself. You may find that you’ve really read a lot less than you think you have.
reallyread.it is based in New York. Read more.
Drop: Search in an immersive world.
Russel Ladson, Geoffrey Griffin, Dustin Boyle, and Victor Knai do a lot in their spare time—from gardening, to reading comic books, to developing virtual reality games. For Russ, one of these hobbies became an obsession and eventually developed into much, much more.
Russ had a near-fatal accident that reshaped how he thought about his relationship with physical space and daily work. He realized that he wanted to use virtual reality to change the way we discover and interact with information in the world around us. He built Drop to design a new daily routine centered within a world of virtual and/or augmented reality.
Drop is based in San Francisco. Read more.
Ovee: Giving young women agency over their sexual health.
Ovee’s founders draw their expertise from their backgrounds as health scientists and user-centered designers. But their product is the result of interviews with hundreds of young women about their sexual and reproductive healthcare, or lack thereof.
Out of those interviews arose a clear need: for healthcare that’s personalized, demystified, and de-stigmatized. Their solution, Ovee, is an app designed to empower users to seek out the care they need, right when they need it.
What might more empowered sexual and reproductive healthcare look like? An AI-powered bot that allows them to ask questions without fear of judgement. Information delivered discretely, via augmented reality, instead of through pamphlets that practically scream, “Hey, I have an STI!” Above all else, it means providing women everywhere, particularly in areas where access to healthcare is restricted, to the reliable, accurate information they need and deserve.
Ovee is based in New York City. Read more.
LedBetter: Looking at diversity and inclusion from the top down.
It didn’t come as a shock to journalist Iris Kuo that very few women are in leadership roles at large corporations — both at executive and board levels. What’s more surprising is how few women are in influential positions at companies with products geared primarily towards women. At a time when more and more companies are under pressure to be more inclusive, Iris realized how important it is to get a comprehensive picture of the problem.
LedBetter is a striking, data-intensive, visually-interactive site that makes information on diversity in leadership readily available and easy to sort. It’s a tool that puts power back in the hands of the buyer to hold companies accountable in a deeper, more meaningful way — going beyond lip service and good PR tactics.
LedBetter is based in San Francisco. Read more.
Optimera: Optimizing digital ad revenue.
Keith Candiotti became an entrepreneur because he had a job to do, and the solutions available to him just weren’t good enough. As the Ad Technology and Ad Operations manager at the New York Daily News, he needed a way to measure advertisements’ viewability — whether they’re actually seen by readers.
The existing solutions for measuring viewability weren’t, in Keith’s opinion, up to par. As a crack coder, not to mention someone committed to optimizing digital revenue for the sake of the reporters and editors in his newsroom, he went home and developed something better. Optimera was developed as a better way of measuring viewability; first for the Daily News, then for other publishers that wanted in. And Keith quit his job to go all-in on Optimera, which he‘s building into “an amazing suite of revenue optimization products at a price point far below anyone else in the industry.”
Optimera is based in New York. Read more.
Kerning Cultures: Intimate narratives from the Middle East.
Growing up inundated with overwhelmingly politicized stories coming out of the Middle East, Hebah Fisher and her co-founder Razan Alzayani decided it was time to bring stories that reflect their lived experiences to the mainstream media.
Kerning Cultures uses the intimacy of audio documentary to do just that. The Guardian has called them “This American Life for the Middle East” because of their focus on longform, character-driven narratives. Starting out as a single podcast, their aim is to grow into a network of 10–15 curated podcasts in English and Arabic to reach audiences in the Middle East and abroad—anyone who is curious to learn more about the region.
Kerning Cultures is based in San Francisco. Read more.
kweliTV: The global black experience, streaming now.
DeShuna Spencer is obsessed with quality content: thought-provoking documentaries, award-winning independent films, and deep-dives into history. Like most film buffs, she values clever storylines, engaging characters, and, of course, having options. But based on what she was seeing on cable television and mainstream streaming services, the options for quality content featuring black subjects seemed incredibly limited.
kweliTV proves that this content — free from cliches, and reflective of communities and cultures throughout the global African diaspora — is out there. And with its growing collection of titles, 65 percent of which are award winning, and 85 percent of which were created by filmmakers of African descent, it is the place to stream it.
“Kweli” means truth in Swahili, and kweliTV is committed to delivering to its audience authentic black stories. “I learned from an early age how media images play a role in how people stereotype others,” DeShuna says. “And since then, I’ve been on a quest to change it.”
kweliTV is based in New York. Read more.
Pixinote: Meaningful photo sharing.
In a world where we post 1.8 billion photos online every day, Daniel Kushner asked himself, “How might we build a platform for fostering deeper relationships?”
With a camera in every pocket, photo sharing has become a go-to mode of storytelling, but meaningful connection gets lost in the cascade. Daniel’s vision is to create the world’s first physical messaging app. Pixinote prints photos on short messages and cards and delivers them to people’s homes. In so doing, they aim to empower both individuals and businesses to foster more meaningful connections with the people who matter most.
Pixinote is based in San Francisco. Read more.
Paytime: Turning attention into currency.
The old models, as we often say, are broken. Nowhere is that more true than for advertising. But as more and more media companies transition to subscription models and paywalls, what does that mean for access to information? And what will it mean for society if high-quality journalism is only available to the elite few who can afford it?
Enter, Paytime. Paytime gives users back control over two of their most valuable assets — their time and their data — and allows them to use these assets to “pay” for premium digital content. Watch an advertisement, answer survey questions, and unlock what before could only be accessed with a credit card.
The user gets a choice: what information to share, and what ads to watch and when. The advertiser gets their full attention. And the publisher is given the ability to offer an accessible alternative while still getting paid. When information is shared voluntarily, and with transparency, trust is fostered.
Paytime is based in New York. Read more.
Matter is an SF & NYC-based startup accelerator and venture capital firm grounded in the principles of design thinking that supports early-stage media entrepreneurs and mission-aligned media institutions building scalable ventures that make society more informed, inclusive, and empathetic.