Commentary from Max Linsky on our preliminary Knight News Challenge survey results

The following is guest commentary from Max Linsky, one of the collaborators who helped bring our Knight News Challenge survey together.

OK, so we can all agree that Knight is ready to take an evolutionary step, right? It’s time for the thing to hold itself, and its winners, a little more accountable.

Not every project is going to be a success. But reading through the responses, it’s not clear to me that there’s a working definition of what Knight Challenge success is. And couching everything as an “experiment” — both the projects and the Challenge itself  allows that lack of accountability to continue. Call something an experiment and the stakes are removed — it’s a success just for being conducted.

So how do you increase accountability? Incubators like YC and TechStars, which have a leg up because they fund for-profit endeavors with a clear-cut barometer for success, offer a model that Knight could adapt. Some chief differences:

  • The incubators give away far less money.
  • They offer a fixed amount, which lets ideas be judged more easily against each other and discourages pie-in-the-sky endeavors. With only $18k, your project needs to be simple and executable.
  • The incubators focus as much on the founders as on the idea — if you don’t have the skills and passion to make your project a success, you’re likely not getting funded.
  • Post-selection, the incubators offer far more hands-on support.
  • That hands-on support often leads to the initial idea evolving and improving.

The incubators have this in common with Knight: they’re making a bet. The question is how hard you work to improve your odds. And doing that work is tough if you haven’t defined what a win really looks like.

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