Former MytopiaCafe.com editor Dr. Michelle Ferrier, one of three winners in the New Media Women Entrepreneurs awards, has been working to develop a complete infrastructure, to be franchised, for those individuals or groups want to launch hyper-local news sites. Ferrier is an associate professor at Elon University in North Carolina and teaches in the iMedia graduate program.
She reports that she’s had a busy time in the projects first three months.
Ferrier established a business structure as a limited liability partnership called Creative Technologists, LLC based in Greensboro, North Carolina and interviewed and/or visited six potential technology partners for the development of the content management system for the community sites.
Ferrier then researched and received quotes on several different companion print products. As part of the learning process, she made contact with competing companies and products being offered in the hyper-local space to see what they were offering. And then she created nondisclosure and teaming agreements with Creative Circle Advertising Solutions of Providence, Rhode Island.
These negotiations included a licensing agreement for use of their CommunityQ content management system and an exclusive nationwide right to sell the platform to potential hyper-local news operators.
Then she created nondisclosure and teaming agreements with Inner Eye Studios of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Inner Eye Studios will be Ferrier’s technology partner in the development of the mobile application and other ancillary technologies to the content management system platform.
She established a project blog at http://www.digitalcontentarchitects.com that details the project development along with informational content of use to hyperlocal developers. She wrote a series of blogs on the pros/cons of content management systems resulting in significant buzz and viewership that extended to the Reynolds Journalism Institute Collaboratory site and Journalism That Matters Collaboratory, two potential audiences for the franchise project content and services.
Finally, she found a physical location for the business in the Wagon Works Digital Media Incubator, developed by Inner Eye Studios in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“The principals of the incubator will help establish the technological supports for the franchise project and provide marketing and business support for the development of the franchise business,” said Ferrier. “They will also assist in the development of a pitch package for local venture capital firms.
“By December 30, 2009, I intend to begin the design and development of the content management system front-end and back-end systems. In addition, a design for the mobile application system will be developed in conjunction with the above partners.”
For all the good things that have happened, Ferrier says that she has experienced a significant setback. Foreclosures, as well as business closures, in the West Volusia, Florida area have had a direct effect on the advertising and readership of a potential hyper-local publication that Ferrier had planned to help launch in the area. Due to the economic downturn, Ferrier and the content partner that she works with in the area both felt that the problems with starting a new enterprise in the area would serious compromise its chances of being successful.
“Due to this loss, I have been assessing other locations for the viability of the hyper-local concept,” says Ferrier. “I’m going to use an online contest to solicit interested hyper-local operators, and to develop a prospect list for potential clients. The contest will held in January 2010, with the winner of will begin development of their local site by March 2010.”
Ferrier plans to attend the Journalism That Matters regional event in Seattle, Washington on January 7-10, 2010. She’ll distribute promotional materials for the contest and the Women’s Community News Franchise effort. And she plans to attend the Journalism That Matters conference in Detroit June 4-7, 2010, where she will be one of the principal organizers.
“This ‘mashup’ conference is designed to stimulate and incubate innovative journalism ventures,” says Ferrier.” I intend to cultivate additional contacts for content, technology and distribution.”
Ferrier also plans to continue to explore a variety of funding sources such as foundation, venture and personal, to sustain the franchise development in subsequent years. The development of a venture capital package is on the drawing board.
The next three months will see more work to build the hyper-local “toolbox,” including the design and development of the content management system/mobile application and contest/marketing materials for the franchise idea. Ferrier will also launch a proof of concept site and select a partner for the site.