Solution Set: Lessons from the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange

The program supports BIPOC media founders with resources to create more sustainable revenue models for their businesses

Members of the 2022 PMFE cohort complete a group sharing exercise at their graduation ceremony

Last year we launched the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange, a program supporting BIPOC media founders with resources to create more sustainable revenue models for their businesses. 

From March to July 2022, PMFE provided intensive training, a community of practice, one-on-one coaching, and multiple rounds of funding to media entrepreneurs with businesses that utilized a range of content mediums spanning video, film, radio, podcasting, social media, and print. 

The Founders Exchange is returning in 2023 to support 8-10 new Philadelphia-area BIPOC media and news entrepreneurs. Applications are open until February 9 — feel free to share the details with your network. 

In this issue of Solution Set, we’re sharing insights into how we created and built the PMFE program for others who may want to replicate the work in their own community. The following is pulled from this comprehensive report published by Zebras Unite.  

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. PMFE consulting partners Zebras Unite Co-op, Love Now Media, and Black and Brown Founders implemented training and coaching to help the entrepreneurs with revenue generation, budgeting, identifying and segmenting customers, and planning for long-term sustainability. 

Keep scrolling for some of the key takeaways from the program as well as Q&As with members of the 2022 cohort.


In November 2020, The Lenfest Institute hosted BEYOND: Reimagining Philadelphia Journalism, a summit featuring journalists of color and community members speaking about the potential and power of the current social and historical moment to transform journalism. The message from Philadelphia’s active and engaged media makers was resoundingly clear: we must build the media of the future together, from a place of collaboration, cooperation, and mutualism. 

PMFE was born out of this collective desire, and the funders developed the following objectives to guide the co-creation and development of the program:

  • Assessing the information needs of Philadelphia’s diverse communities 
  • Empowering communities to tell their own stories 
  • Supporting the establishment of BIPOC-owned and operated media organizations to craft and share the narrative of underrepresented communities through the Philadelphia media ecosystem 
  • Supporting the diversification of information delivery systems 
  • Identifying and supporting innovative and sustainable revenue models and structures that help close wealth gaps (including, but not limited to, nonprofits, for-profits, and shared ownership structures like collectives and co-ops)

Cohort Design and Experience

In considering the design for the cohort experience, the project team referenced several reports, including: Media 2070: An Invitation to Dream Up Media Reparations, a 100 page essay examining the history of anti-Black harm in the U.S. media system and a 2020 report titled “Investing in Equitable News and Media Projects” by Transform Finance and the Ford Foundation. The report captured two distinct problems media entrepreneurs face when seeking financial investments and support: 1) the absence of a proven and promising revenue model; and 2) a lack of mutually beneficial deal structures. 

The team applied these lessons to the design of PMFE, which included: 

  • Employing a more flexible and expansive definition of media entrepreneurs
  • Experimenting with ways of funding, including following a process that allows for more input from participants and shared power 
  • Focusing on funding experimentation in both product and business models 
  • Considering how to engage newsrooms and other funders who have a responsibility for addressing systemic barriers they perpetuate

Program Design & Components

PMFE demonstrates the importance of co-designing with the community, both to inform programming and the allocation of grant funding. The research gave the project team clear direction, and continued work with the cohort highlighted specific needs and challenges that founders were looking to address. Key issues for cohort members included: 

  • Creating business plans and understanding how to earn revenue 
  • Learning how to approach sponsors and funders 
  • Staffing up their organizations 
  • Investing in infrastructure which leads to sustainability

In addition to business training, the application process and cohort experience revealed that participants were most most interested in the following support: : 

  • Guidance on strategy and implementation 
  • Validation from people in same industry who understand their challenges 
  • Long-term planning, including processes and workflows 
  • Support and encouragement on prioritization and reclaiming their time as business owners

A key component of the PMFE project was the Community Catalyst role, held by Jos Duncan Asé of Love Now Media, who was the on-the-ground presence to lead aspects of the initiative, including needfinding, culture building, program design, and execution. As the role, cohort, and our partnership evolved, Jos brought unparalleled insight, lived experience, and expertise as a media maker in her own right. She elevated the project through trust and relationship-building, stakeholder engagement and cross-sector “translation,” and strategic advice and expertise. 

Program Pillars

Community co-design process – Zebras Unite led and facilitated several activities in December 2021, including:

  • Listening sessions with media entrepreneurs, funders, and ecosystem leaders
  • A two-day convening and program co-design session with media entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs working inside existing newsrooms
  • A collaborative first-round application review process with a committee comprised of members of the funding and consulting teams and non-applicant media leaders in Philadelphia
  • Finalist interviews with one representative each from the funding team and the consulting team

Core grant funding – PMFE offered every cohort member core grant funding for their participation in the program. This funding was seen as an infusion of capital into a sample of the media ecosystem. Each participant received $10,000 for stabilization and growth of their businesses. The project team was sensitive to the immediate needs of the entrepreneurs and The Lenfest Institute disbursed $5,000 to each entrepreneur upon acceptance to the program to support and sustain their participation. To incentivize program participation and completion, the remaining $5,000 was disbursed to each entrepreneur after they completed the program.

Educational curriculum – The educational curriculum had three main components designed to overlap and compliment each other:

  • Black & Brown Founders’ Bootstrapping Bootcamp, a digital, self-paced course, with complementary live sessions delivered via Zoom by Deldelp Medina, Black & Brown Founders’ executive director
  • Additional live sessions via Zoom with guest speakers from across the news, media, and funding ecosystems
  • One-on-one touchpoints with individual coaches to support the entrepreneurs in implementing their learnings into their businesses

Follow-On Funding – The follow-on funding aspect of the program was designed to give cohort members the opportunity to apply for additional funding at two points during the program, based on our assumption that their understanding of their needs for growth and sustainability would evolve over the course of the program. The follow-on funding process was designed to empower the cohort to co-design the distribution of the funds, provide transparency into the work of their peers, and strengthen their skills in presenting and applying for additional funding. 

We referenced the local collaborative reporting work and funding approach led by Resolve Philly, which makes a pot of funds available for reporting projects and members can apply if they have ideas that align with the project’s goals. Their funding process requires a written application which is shared with the collaborative, a verbal pitch to the collaborative members summarizing the application questions, and approvals or declines by the members following the pitch. 

We modeled Resolve’s processes by: 1) having PMFE cohort members complete an application, which we then shared with the entire cohort for review; 2) requiring a verbal pitch to the cohort members; and 3) giving cohort members the ability to recommend approvals or declinations to the funding team. To ensure alignment with the funders’ policies and practices, the funding team maintained the final approval for funding. 

Deepening Budget Skills

A core component of the Black & Brown Founders Bootstrapping Bootcamp was to help the PMFE cohort participants understand the true cost of doing business. For many in the cohort, this deep-dive into budgeting was eye-opening and allowed them to re-evaluate what they needed for their businesses — and themselves as entrepreneurs — to thrive.

Compared to the reported revenue across the cohort at the beginning of the program, PMFE participants’ projected revenue needs increased by 145% by the end of the program. It’s important to note that this does not reflect actual earned revenue, but rather a change in cohort participants’ assessment of their expenses and the revenue required to sustain or grow their operations. This more realistic, scalable budgetary assessment is a milestone for entrepreneurs, taking them from the mindset of seeing themselves as a solopreneur, to advancing to scalable growth supported by their first employee, contractor, or small team.

Entrepreneur Self-Assessments

At the end of the program, participants assessed their growth as business owners through the course of the program. The following table summarizes their responses:

These data suggest that participation in the inaugural PMFE cohort equipped the participants with a more comprehensive grasp of the fundamental value of their businesses, as well as how to define a business model to deliver that value to customers and audiences alike.

Want to know more?

🗣 Check out Q&As with seven of the 2022 PMFE founders to learn more about their businesses and key lessons they learned: 

📊 Read the full report from Zebras Unite, which contains more details on how the Philadelphia Media Founders Exchange was designed, metrics used to track success and sustainability, key lessons from the first cohort, and opportunities for similar programming.  

🌇 Learn more about the metrics we use to evaluate the impact of our programming in the Philadelphia media ecosystem and use this template for similar impact tracking within your own organization. 

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