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Bringing Content Strategy to Startups

Rich GordonWhen Medill School faculty began looking at ways to enhance the media-product-development classes in the school’s master’s program, their research led them to the university’s flagship entrepreneurial initiative: NUvention.

Rich Gordon, professor and director of digital innovation at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, got in touch with the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation last year to explore ways to connect NUvention to Medill’s “innovation project” capstone classes.

Gordon sat down with Mike Marasco, the director of the Farley Center, to learn more about the NUvention class model. And the discussion turned to possibly spawning a NUvention: Media course.

As a pilot to a possible future NUvention course in media product development, students of this year's NUvention: Web class will be exposed to the expertise of Medill professors who will advise teams on content strategy (Gordon), researching customer segments (Associate Professor Rachel Davis Mersey) and visual design (Assistant Professor Susan Mango Curtis).

"At a minimum, any of the projects need a strategy for communicating what they're doing to help attract attention and interest potentially for customers for their product," Gordon says about the integration of content strategy in NUvention: Web startup ideas.

Gordon says that some of the product ideas could have a publication that's central to their business success. For example, one current idea being finessed in the course is a matchmaking/job-finder service for highly educated women seeking part-time or consultant work.

"As soon as you think about that audience—highly educated professional women who are now out of the full-time workforce, the most common reason being that they've decided to prioritize raising children—you can quickly imagine content that audience might benefit from in addition to the matchmaking tool that team is imagining," Gordon says.

"That's an example of a project where a content piece could be significantly important to be successful."

While the content element may not be as strong for other product or service ideas in this course, Gordon is taking notes on what the NUvention course model could add to the Medill innovation course curriculum.

"We're all looking at this as an experiment we're going to learn things from," Gordon says. "Our innovation projects I think have been very successful for a very long time in a lot of different ways, but the NUvention model offers some ways to improve it."

Among those possible improvements, Gordon lists treating the project more as a startup business rather than a consulting project for a media company as many have been structured before. Also, Gordon is intrigued by the collaboration across schools in NUvention courses. NUvention courses have always been open to Medill students, but this quarter marks the first time Medill faculty have contributed to the experience.

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