Introducing the first Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange entrepreneurs

Eleven media entrepreneurs of color will participate in a community-grounded accelerator program and receive grant funding and training

The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund are pleased to announce the 11 media founders of color selected to participate in the inaugural Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange, a new community-focused accelerator program.

The PMFE entrepreneurs are building businesses focused on investigative journalism, podcasting, multimedia production, and more. Over the five-month program, the PMFE entrepreneurs will participate in training on operations, revenue and monetization, and marketing and branding to help them build profitable and sustainable media businesses. They will also each receive a $10,000 grant, the opportunity to apply for follow-on grant support, and professional coaching to support their entrepreneurial efforts.

The Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange is supported by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism, The Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, and the Independence Public Media Foundation.

The PMFE programming, which begins on Friday, March 11, will be led by the Zebras Unite Co-Op in partnership with Black and Brown Founders, both past leaders of successful new business accelerators. 

The Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange Entrepreneurs are: 

  • Sofiya Abena Ballin (Black History Untold) is a Caribbean-American and award-winning journalist and producer who has written for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Essence, FADER and produced for The New York Times, the Brooklyn Nets, ACLU, and Aerie. She is also the creator of the award-winning Black History Untold Project, an identity series that explores the importance of a comprehensive Black history through powerful and personal interviews.
  • Jean-Pierre Brice (CMP Radio), aka Uncle P, began his radio career in 2016, working with PQRadio1 and Purple Queen, joining the No Filter show with No Q Tommy and DJ Chuck B, and launching the podcast Revolutionary Minds. With partners Joelle and Chuck B, he launched in 2017 to bring information to the Chester community, cultivate mature positivity, and give a voice to the voiceless.
  • Alex Lewis (Rowhome Productions) is an audio storyteller and musician who has produced award-winning audio documentaries for NPR, BBC Radio 4, and many other radio stations and podcast companies. He is also the co-founder of Rowhome Productions, an audio production agency that specializes in making podcasts, radio documentaries, audio tours, and other narrative audio projects. 
  • Joshua Meekins (Mike Jay Films) is a creator, producer, and storyteller across multiple platforms whose work has earned him over 2 million YouTube views and an appearance in a Cannes Film Festival Short Film Selection. He has created a podcast platform for upcoming creators titled “Disruptors in the Culture,” and through Mike Jay Films, he continues to produce holistic narratives, centered on people of color, that advance social change and tell stories that matter.
  • Indah Nuritasari (Indonesian Lantern) has worked for more than thirty years as a journalist in Indonesia, Germany, and the United States. She has also served as an Asset Building and Savings Program Manager for Women’s Opportunities Resource Center (WORC) and a Commercial Loan and Technical Assistance Officer for the Cooperative Business Assistance Corporation. As CEO of Indonesian Lantern, she provides a platform for the Indonesian community to find trusted information about Indonesian news, culture, and business, and to have a voice in American media.
  • Sheila Quintana Aguilar (Sheila Quintana Aguilar) is an undocumented mother and artist with a decade of community and political organizing experience at the intersection of migration, criminalization, and health. She works with local, statewide, and national non-profit and social movement organizations and campaigns developing participatory, intersectional narrative and communication strategy for social change. She is an inaugural Leeway x IPMF Media Artist + Activist in Residence, a VONA writers workshop alumna, and a recipient of the Artist Leadership Award by the Center for Cultural Power. 
  • Shameka Sawyer (5 Shorts Project) is an award-winning producer and champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion and an experienced director of photography, camera operator, and video editor. She is the Founder of the 5 Shorts Project, one of the few film and video production companies in Philadelphia owned and operated by an African-American woman, and has developed content a range of clients, including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), NAACP Philadelphia Chapter, Straight Ahead Organization, North Broad Street Renaissance, and WHYY.
  • Lauren Settles (We Talk Weekly) holds a B.A., M.B.A, and is a current Master of Journalism student at Temple University Klein College of Media and Communication and served on Philadelphia Community Access Media (PhillyCAM) Board of Directors from 2015-2021, where she assisted in creating WPPM 106.5 FM. As co-host of We Talk Weekly, Lauren amplifies Black voices through objective storytelling that highlights contrasting positive Black narratives, while creating growth and opportunities for marginalized communities of color.
  • Kaia Niambi Shivers (Ark Republic) is a media scholar, artist, and professor with nearly three decades of experience in media. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Ark Republic, a member-funded, advertisement-and-cookie free, digital outlet using multimedia to provide rich and robust stories, features, news and thoughts. As part of a collective, Ark Republic’s journalists, scholars, artists, and activists offer a range of media services and examine the world through innovative, experimental storytelling techniques.
  • Kristal Sotomayor (Sotomayor Productions) (they/she) is a bilingual Latinx journalist, filmmaker, and festival programmer whose production company, Sotomayor Productions, works at the intersection of investigative journalism and documentary filmmaking to advance the portrayals of Latinx communities. They also serve as the Awards Competition Manager for the International Documentary Association (IDA) and Programming Director for the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival (PHLAFF). 
  • Anis Taylor (Higher Than 7), aka AT SoundZ, is a screenwriter, director, and producer of music, films, and TV. He is also the CEO and co-founder of Higher Than 7, a subscription streaming platform that provides the Philadelphia community and beyond with exclusive access to engaging productions from a variety of content creators focused on music, movies, shows, sports, radio, and live events.

“The inaugural PMFE Cohort embodies what we know makes our local media ecosystem so extraordinary,” said Lenfest Institute Program Director Shawn Mooring. “By telling the stories of their communities, these entrepreneurs provide critical news and information. They also weave a stronger, more resilient social fabric in our City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. In doing so, they are redefining what is possible with next-generation media companies. We believe there is so much potential in creating the conditions for these groundbreaking companies to work together and to succeed.” 

“We are proud to partner with these visionary entrepreneurs and support the strategic growth of their businesses,”  said Knight-Lenfest Fund Program Manager Diana Lu. “These innovators provide news and information in service to their communities, highlighting voices and stories through podcasting, streaming platforms, film, video, print and radio. We have much to learn from their community-driven approaches and are excited to witness the peer mentorship as their experiences and input help shape this inaugural cohort.”

Designed in collaboration with more than 30 local BIPOC mediamakers, the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange will also serve as a resource to the broader community. All applicants to the program were invited to participate in select monthly training sessions along with the participating entrepreneurs. The Lenfest Institute will also share key insights from the program and regular updates on the entrepreneurs’ successes, challenges, and lessons learned. 

“I am truly looking forward to supporting, learning from, and working with this powerful group of diverse media entrepreneurs to catalyze our media ecosystem. The space to exchange ideas, collaborate, and innovate could be transformational for each of the entrepreneurs and for communities throughout the Philadelphia region” said Jos Duncan Asé, founder of Love Now Media, who is also working as the project’s Community Catalyst.

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