Startup lessons from the Knight News Challenge: Make damn sure you fill a market need

at GigaOm: “The Knight Foundation looked at the 28 media-focused startups it funded as part of its News Challenge competition in 2010 and 2011 and came up with some useful lessons for those who might want to follow in their footsteps
Media startups are a lot like any other startup, in the sense that they are a risky bet on an idea or vision — but what makes them even harder is that they are aimed at an industry that is undergoing unprecedented upheaval, filled with potential customers who are struggling to keep their heads above water. What does success look like in that kind of environment? The Knight Foundation knows better than most, since it has funded dozens of startup ventures over the years through its News Challenge, and it has come out with a report that looks at what it has learned.
The report considered the progress of 28 projects that applied for and won funding as part of the 2010-2011 Knight News Challenge competitions, and includes a profile of each — from the Front Porch Forum, a Vermont-based community-building service that started up in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, to a winner called FrontlineSMS, which uses mobile technology to serve the information needs of small communities that don’t have reliable internet access.
Among the lessons that Knight drew from this roster of winners is one that will sound familiar to any technology startup or venture capital partner: namely, make sure your idea serves a market need, as opposed to just being a cool technical solution. This is especially important in an industry like media, the report says:

Selling innovations to news organizations is extremely difficult because they may lack the money and time to spend on innovative projects or the technical capacity to take full advantage of new tools. The innovation may also be entering a market guarded by institutions that may be resistant to change. Fundamentally, unless an innovation addresses a pressing need, journalists and news organizations will not adopt it.”