This year is different.
When Matter. launched in 2012, we were inspired by Clay Shirky’s words on the rapidly-changing newspaper market: “now is the time for lots and lots of experiments”. Matter was created as a place to do those experiments.
This year, in an increasingly divided world where public trust in the media is at an all-time low, and where the President of the United States calls the news media “the enemy of the American people”, we believe using those experiments to help create a more informed, inclusive, and empathetic society is more important than ever before.
Back in February, we launched applications for our seventh class with a renewed manifesto:
We believe the seeds of the next great media institutions will be planted this year by courageous entrepreneurs who make the leap to build ventures that speak truth to power, close the empathy gap, and take a radically inclusive approach to amplifying the voices of all people.
We gathered together representatives from our partners: the Associated Press, McClatchy, KQED, the New York Times, PRX, Tamedia, CNHI, A.H. Belo, Tronc, Google News Lab, Google for Entrepreneurs, and the Knight Foundation.
Together with them, we converged on core themes we believe will make a difference. Ideas like building secure technologies to protect freedom of speech and expression; rebuilding trust; amplifying voices that aren’t always being heard; moving beyond targeted advertising to new business models; and harnessing emerging technologies to create new models for content, understanding, and empathy.
We spent hundreds of hours meeting entrepreneurs, seeing their pitches, and having tough conversations about their businesses. It was a highly competitive process, with a 2.9% acceptance rate and 50% more qualified applicants than ever before. We had to make some very difficult decisions. The teams spent hours on design thinking projects, getting feedback on their fundamental assumptions and figuring out how to move forward based on imperfect information. They traveled to San Francisco and New York to meet our team and our partners, and speak in detail about the future of their companies.
Finally, on Monday, June 5th, twelve teams of entrepreneurs walked through our garage door. They come from all walks of life, from many different countries, and from different backgrounds. Not every team hits the core themes we built with our partners; some teams surprised us by tackling issues we hadn’t even considered. But each has one thing in common: they want to change media for good.
This is just the beginning. Matter is a twenty-week, design thinking-driven program that simultaneously takes place in San Francisco and New York City.
This week, they experienced their first Design Review, where they pitched their venture to a panel of trusted experts who gave them the honest feedback they needed to move forward. From here, they embark on a month-long sprint to the next Design Review — and onto our dual demo days on both coasts in October.
It’s a high-touch, intensive experience where they will build relationships with our partners, hear advice from our network of hundreds of mentors, test prototypes, act on imperfect information, and anchor their venture in a human-centered approach.
We’re inspired by their missions, and their courage; we’re humbled by their thoughtfulness, creativity, and determination; we’re proud to support them as companies and as individuals. We’re thankful to our partners for supporting them with us. And we’re excited to introduce them to you.
Meet Matter Seven. We’re glad they’re here.
Grafiti: Have informed discussions, everywhere.
As an Al Jazeera reporter during the Arab Spring, Farhan Mustafa was struggling to find verified data in order to find where other protests were happening, and illustrate an insight in his journalism with a chart. The process took him hours. In a world where a photo can instantly be sent across the world, he was shocked.
His cofounders had similar frustrations in different realms: banking, gaming, and data science. Insightful data can elevate arguments and change debates, but it’s almost impossible to create and share.
Grafiti is based in New York City. Read more.
The Establishment: The conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice.
Kelley Calkins, Nikki Gloudeman and Katie Tandy worked in newsroom and publishing environments that were dominated by men throughout their careers. That shouldn’t be surprising: just 37% of news journalism is credited to women.
Media is central to democracy. It’s how a voting population becomes informed; it’s how we convey our values throughout society. Yet “when one small, homogenous group runs the media,” The Establishment team points out, “we’re left with a very skewed notion of the human experience.”
The team set out to create a space for more diverse journalism, and have proven that there is an enormous audience for underrepresented voices. Their editors — including Ijeoma Oluo — have brought down the internet with incisive pieces that wouldn’t have a home anywhere else. And it’s growing faster in their first few years than comparable publications like Buzzfeed.
The Establishment is based in San Francisco. Read more.
Rewire: Safeguarding free speech, from Zuccotti Park to Syria.
What happens when Occupy Wall Street protestors, anti-fascism activists, World Wide Web Consortium technologists and open source security experts work together?
Rewire’s co-founder Austin Guest called the Occupy movement “the best thing that ever happened to me”. He was instrumental in getting the word out about the movement, which helped accelerate the conversation about global inequality and social justice. He and his other co-founders, including Mooness Daverian, Simon Fondrie-Teitler, McNair Scott, Harry Halpin, Micah Anderson and Elijah Sparrow, met as part of it and related movements.
They found it was important to discuss their work over secure channels, and needed something so easy to use that individual activists could pick it up. The result was a technology that powers the secure RiseUp encrypted email service used by journalists and advocates for press freedom — Laura Poitras used it to make contact with Edward Snowden — as well as pro-democracy activists in countries like Syria.
At Matter, Rewire is taking its activist-friendly security technology and bringing it to market as a service that anyone can use.
You’ll find Rewire in our New York City office. Read more.
DADA: Make art that spans the world.
Art is our oldest way of communicating across time and space. It transcends language and reveals important truths about who we are as people, and the contexts in which we live. Like all culture, art is also cumulative: ideas from one artist instigate ideas from another.
While most social networks have been built up around simple text messages and photos, DADA is the first to embrace the artistic process. A drawing from one artist flows seamlessly into the art from another, creating living, social tapestries that allow complex messages to be shared wordlessly — and artists to be found through the strength of their work.
“Drawing is an act of creation that takes time, concentration and imagination,” the founders say. On DADA, the result is a meaningful kind of communication unbothered by borders or divisions.
DADA is based in New York City. Read more.
Purple: The future of journalism is personal.
At college, Rebecca Harris was the go-to political source for her friends. They would ask her what was going on in Syria, and around the world — and, as a self-described political geek, she would happily sit down and discuss it with them. Later, interning with Senator Kent Conrad, she channeled this energy into a blog that broke down political issues in the way you would with a friend.
David Heimann had similar experiences, and together they began to think about how to have these more personal political conversations with more people. The result was Purple: a way for trustworthy sources to directly connect to their audiences via messaging platforms.
Unlike most journalism, these stories are two-way: you can reply to the journalist and have a conversation. And unlike most conversational platforms, you’re always talking to a real person, not a bot. The result is strong audience trust and a loyal audience in a world where media companies are struggling to find either.
Purple is based in New York City. Read more.
In the Room: Look beyond the superficial to make meaningful connections.
André Woodley Jr has built hundreds of apps. One — Shwcase, a platform for musicians to reach their audiences — gained half a million users. But there was always one idea he couldn’t put down.
Too many important interactions are informed by first impressions. Your gender or the color of your skin could well be enough for you to be passed over at a networking event, or for a job. Unconscious bias and active discrimination are at work everywhere. What if there was a platform that put everyone at an event on an even playing field, and allowed you to find people around you based on who they were, rather than superficial signals?
Together with co-founder Brandon Stokes, André got to work. His platform works as a social networking backchannel to any location, be it a conference, a coffee shop, or a protest.
In the Room is based in San Francisco. Read more.
Nametag: Safe conversations with people you trust.
David Jay has been building communities since protesting the war in Afghanistan. It was then that he realized that effective movements “are not about the size of an e-mail list or even about fundraising capacity, they are about the ability to build and align relationships at scale.”
Relationships require trust and a feeling of safety — something most community platforms are not set up to support. Nametag will allow anyone to securely control their identity in an encrypted community space: something that is particularly valuable when you’re supporting vulnerable individuals who don’t want facets of their identity to become public.
That’s something support organizations are already taking advantage of in order to have confidential conversations with people who need them. And because each community space lasts as long as it needs to, there’s no lingering personal information hanging out on the web.
Nametag is based San Francisco. Read more.
Signl.fm: Bridging the divide between audio and data.
Kim Hansen, Kelly Wright, and Rainer Koch originally set out to build a podcasting platform: a tall ask with a huge number of players in the market (including our own RadioPublic). But they soon realized there was a core problem that nobody was touching.
Audio is an amazing platform for storytelling: it intimately conveys empathy and allows us to feel like we’re in the same room with the storyteller. But audio files are dumb. It’s impossible to search audio content, let alone share a piece on social media. Similarly, it’s impossible to search for a topic and find it discussed in a conversation deep inside a podcast.
Signl.fm seeks to change all that, by making that deeply-embedded audio content accessible to search engines and other applications. By making audio as easy to work with as text, they open up new doors for sharing and discovery in spoken word audio.
Signl.fm is based in San Francisco. Read more.
CivNet: Building networks for local action.
As a researcher at the Kettering Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to examining how to make democracy stronger and more participative, Charlie Wisoff saw a need for an online space to discuss local issues and build consensus for direct action. So after he left, he joined up with co-founder Sam Raife and built it.
Rather than testing in Silicon Valley or San Francisco, CivNet launched in Albuquerque, and began to focus on that city’s issues. While most social networks are optimized for engagement — in other words, to keep users looking at advertising on the platform for as long as possible — he chose to optimize for real-world action.
CivNet is creating a new way for citizens to organize amongst themselves, and help local democracy work to support its constituents.
CivNet is based in San Francisco. Read more.
Multimer: Mapping empathy across our lived environment.
Our experiences are shaped by the environment around us: the design of our cities affects how we think, feel, and perceive. City planning has a profound impact on our lives — and rather than being universal, different groups and individuals may be affected in different ways.
We are all cyborgs now: we carry devices that measure our movements, augment our knowledge, and help us lead healthier lives. Multimer takes these technologies and builds them into unique wearables that allow the emotional impact of cities to be measured.
Not only do these empathy maps allow businesses to make better commercial decisions, like where to place a new store, but this new understanding of how cities work could help planners build a better environment for everyone.
Multimer is based in New York City. Read more.
Smartfeed: Raise the next generation with values that matter.
When Linsly Donnelly’s seven year old son asked if he could play Halo and watch The Hunger Games, she thought she had a problem. When her five year old daughter started worrying about her weight, she knew she did.
She asked her friend Didi Engel for better suggestions, and together they started to think about how to find and share more positive media recommendations for their kids — based on their own values, rather than someone else’s. The result was Smartfeed.
Linsly and Didi are no strangers to digital projects, and collectively have extensive experience in e-commerce. This is their most personal project to date.
Smartfeed is based in San Francisco. Read more.
Vigilant: Public information, under one roof.
Since 2009, the number of open records and datasets published by the government has expanded from 47 to around 180,000. Information on everything from legislation, through court decisions, to budgeting, has been made available for scrutiny.
But how do you find it?
Publishing data online isn’t enough to make it open; a lot of important information continues to languish in obscurity. Founder Mike Phillips has a decade of experience in research and political campaign support; informed by this, Vigilant provides a single interface that allows researchers to search it all. Its API allows this capability to be built into other applications, and users can opt to be notified when a dataset changes (or is removed). Open records are finally open.
Vigilant is based in New York City. 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.