Oliver Mooney of GetBulb, winner of the Irish Times digital challenge.
In 1994, The Irish Times was one of the very first newspapers in the world with an online edition. The Dublin-based publication has been around for 153 years and throughout its history, it has made many technological advances, most recently its digital challenge, which, according to chief innovation officer Johnny Ryan, aimed to “recapture that spirit of invention.”

The challenge launched in early May, and the paper invited emerging digital startup businesses to apply. The overall winner would receive €50,000 (about $65,000) from DFJ Esprit, a venture capital firm based in London. Ryan said the paper received a total of 80 applications.

“I was looking for the next wave of disruptors, early-stage digital businesses who were doing new things in mobile, visualization, news and curation, and advertising,” Ryan said. “The startups had to have products or services that were ready to implement or go to market.”

From there, he said the applications were scaled down to 15 startups. They were invited to Pitch Day, where the companies met with a judging panel made up of investors, entrepreneurs, and Irish Times senior staff members.

“Ultimately, we selected five on the basis of most significant potential revenue or reader impact, and on how compelling their pitches were,” Ryan said.

The five finalists included Picturk, a photo awards platform that simplifies the process for both contestants and judges; Storyflow, a Web widget that shows related links in a visual manner; Myifli, a mobile platform that allows advertisers to rapidly build micro-sites and invite users to them via QR code or shortcode; KnockOn, an online community for lovers of amateur rugby in Ireland; and GetBulb, a data visualization tool that allows a non-designer to drag and drop data from Excel into a design template and produce print-ready and HTML 5 interactive graphics instantly.

Each company participated in an eight-week mini-startup incubator inside the Irish Times building, with the help of the National Digital Research Center’s LaunchPad.

“The idea was to allow each startup to act as an agent of change inside the newspaper, connecting with people at all levels and doing whatever they needed to in order to grow their revenue,” Ryan said. “This meant that people were forced to look at problems in new ways and consider new approaches.”

At the end of the eight weeks, the startups pitched at a grand finale in front of 100 startups, investors, and clients for the overall prize. In the end, GetBulb was named the winner.

According to Ryan, the judges selected GetBulb “because of the enormous potential it offers to streamline the production process (and) because of its ability to bring designs that currently appear only in our print product to online readers too with no additional effort.”

The Times is already looking ahead to the next challenge. “We are going to focus on the advertising space next and raise the level of ambition further. The vision is simple — if you are going to disrupt our industry, the Irish Times wants to hear from you. We want to meet the disruptors, to work with them, and to help them grow,” Ryan said.

For more information, visit irishtimesidealab.com.

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