By Shine Salt
UNITY Student Reporter
There are many challenges for an entrepreneurs running their own media company. Many have to figure out ways to survive with minimal funding, how to provide good content, and be innovative in order to stay ahead of the competition. But what if you’re a person of color owning a business?
KweliTV is an on-line streaming TV network that provides independent films, documentaries, and a wealth of other types of stories. Something like Netflix and Hulu. The only difference is KweliTV is a platform geared toward the black community. DeShuna Spencer is the founder and CEO of KweliTV. She launched it less than a year ago.
“The only thing that I really hear from customers that makes me pause is the representation of the leadership,” said Spencer. She’s also the publisher for EmpowerMagazine.com. “One of the main things I get from my customers is, ‘who owns KweliTV? I want to see who the owners are and are they people of color?’”
Spencer was one of several media business owners who participate in the UNITIY Phoenix Media Summit in April. She was a panel member on The Power of Startup: Starting Your Own Media Company. Spencer said there’s no room for mistakes, especially when trying to attract investors. Her company has been bull strapping for a couple of months and she says only 0.2% of black women get funding.
“It’s been really hard and I don’t want to claim the cards with politics. That’s the race card, or the women card, but I’m going to run the cards out there because it’s true,” said Spencer.
She added that there have been challenges when getting her business going. However, it doesn’t stop her from submitting proposals to foundations who offer grants to business owners. Spencer said a few weeks ago she got word her business was granted an award.
Eric Ortiz is familiar with the dedication it takes to make a business a success. During the panel discussion Ortiz said he had to get a job as a managing editor to help his startup business. Ortiz is the creator and CEO of Evrybit, a mobile storytelling app. The program allows journalists – or storytellers – to create and edit their multi-media stories on smartphones in real time. The app also allows for continuous updates. Ortiz said he understands journalism needs a lot of help getting the stories out, so he’s providing those innovative ideas to do so.
“What’s happening now with media and organizations [is] people are putting it on social media and the news organizations are taking that and putting it on newscast,” said Ortiz. “Maybe with a credit or maybe not, but they’re able to monetize it and the content creator isn’t, most of the time, making money off of it. Citizen journalism is very big right now and it’s only going to continue as more and more people get smart phones, which right now there’s over two billion people and in five years it’s going to be seven billion. All of these are content creators and all of these are the people who have potential to be journalists. I think that’s the future of journalism.”
Ortiz said his team is constantly working on keeping the app sharp and fast. He said Evrybit will soon be unrolling a few upgrades, including adding more recording time for subscribers and allowing for story collaboration. He even wants to create a private marketplace where people or media organizations can have access to the products, and the content creator can sell pieces of their content.
Comic books have been a decades-old form of entertainment. It’s filled with villains overpowered by strong superheroes who come to rescue the less empowered. But, when owning a comic company that narrates real human crisis involving migrants and the authority, Hector Rodriguez said there are challenges with reeling-in investors.
“At first, kick-starters didn’t take us seriously. We’ve had two successful kick-starters and I’ll tell you this, it’s a full time gig,” said Rodriguez, founder and author of Rio Bravo Comics. “I’ve had to basically plan out three to six months before hand, creating press releases, making connections and having content ready to go. It’s challenging because we’re in comics and I have to constantly be on social media promoting.”
Rio Bravo Comics is an independent comic book publisher. It’s first release was El Peso Hero a comic book influenced by modern-day immigration struggles by people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. The Dallas-based company has gone viral a couple of times. Rodriguez recently created stories about unaccompanied minors crossing the border into the U.S. and taken to a detention center in Texas. Homeland Security controls the minors while in detention and no one is allowed to get in and help. This, Rodriguez says, is the kind of story that can easily be made into a comic book scene of villains, victims and heroes.
“It’s one of our focus points in our new book so investors can see the value of the content,” said Rodriguez.
Being an independent company is what all three owners are aiming for. They believe what they’re doing is for the people — to gain power and voice.
“What’s happening with journalism, media and all these companies are becoming consolidated,” said Evrybit CEO Ortiz. “All these companies are buying other companies and newspapers, so there are fewer voices, there’s less diversity, there’s less opposition and there’s less static. That’s why journalism is necessary, to provide for a thriving democracy and that’s what we built this for.”
Despite it being difficult, KweliTV CEO Spencer said to keep searching for various types of funding and finding a team who can support and help as you build the company.
“It’s all about learning as you go along. There’s no book on how to start a tech company so you really have to sort of go at it and try to fumble your way through it,” suggested Spencer.
The UNITY: Journalists for Diversity held the Phoenix Media Regional Summit at the ASU Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix. The summit titled “Stories from the Four Corners: Empowering the Southwestern Perspective” was co-sponsored by the Cronkite School, Panda Express, Bashas’, and The Refuge Café.