Accelerating independent digital news startups

Applications for the 2021 GNI Startups Lab are now closed, but you can still join the News Entrepreneur Community on Slack to stay in the loop of future opportunities, including the 2021 GNI Startups Boot Camp for aspiring news entrepreneurs.

So, why the GNI Startups Lab?

Over the past nine months, the Google News Initiative has been working with LION Publishers and UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media to study the choices news startups face in establishing and growing their companies. Through our research with nearly 300 digital journalism entrepreneurs in North America, we’ve learned that many wrestle with the same questions, but lack reliable support systems to overcome these obstacles. 

With this in mind, the Google News Initiative and LION Publishers have created the GNI Startups Lab in North America, a six-month experience that provides a cohort of news founders with coaching and capital to evolve their news products and accelerate their companies on the path to sustainability. 

Read on to find out more.


News & Program Updates

Please fill all the required fields!
Please accept terms and conditions to proceed

GNI Startups Lab

Developed in partnership with LION Publishers, the GNI Startups Lab in North America will address the common questions news startups navigate when evolving their companies, as well as each participant’s individual path to growth. Founders will develop a deeper understanding of their audience, create short- and long-term strategy and budget plans, evolve team structures and strengthen business models, with the goal of building loyal readers and recurring revenue over time.

Made for journalism

A laser-focused, and immensely practical curriculum that is focused on doing over listening

Live sessions

Regular live virtual sessions with a small cohort of like-minded journalism entrepreneurs

Personalized coaching

Weekly one-on-one coaching to help you move your idea forward and grow sustainably

Annual LION Membership

A year-long membership to LION Publishers including access to their network and resources

Application process & timeline

Applications close on January 24, 2021.

Dec 17, 2020
Program launch and application form open.

Jan 24, 2021
Application period ends

Feb 5 2021
20 semi-finalists informed & additional information requested

Mar 4, 2021
Finalists confirmed & announced

Mar 22, 2021
Program launch

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the Lab cost to participate in?

If you apply and get accepted into the Lab — you give it 110% — it will cost you nothing but your time.

That’s right: all of the Lab costs are covered. This includes the regular cohort trainings and one-on-one coaching, and access to our community of practice. 

No fees, no tuition, no income sharing arrangement. No financial barriers to your success. Just the support you need to achieve a pathway to financial and operational sustainability.

Plus, upon successfully completing the Lab, you will receive a year-long LION membership.

What are the dates of the Lab?

The Lab will kick-off on March 18 and end in late August, 2021.

What kinds of businesses are eligible?

Please consider applying if you:

  • Are based in the U.S. or Canada
  • Are independently owned and operated
  • Produce original content that is primarily on a digital platform(s)
  • Have been operating for at least six months
  • Earn less than $500,000 per year in gross revenue
  • Can demonstrate some successes on the path to sustainability. Examples include increased site visits, a growing membership program or increased earned revenue.  
  • Focus on one or more of the following:
    • Public interest journalism
    • Filling an information gap
    • Serving a geographic-bound or single subject community
    • Serving an underserved community
    • Exploring new ways to deliver and/or monetize information
Who’s the program for?

You should consider this Lab if you are a founder or founding team seeking to:

  • Develop the knowledge and skills necessary to operate and grow a digital news business
  • Explore a major strategic opportunity, which can help you become more sustainable, which we define as the union of journalistic impact, operational resilience and financial health
  • You’re committed to public-service reporting with communities, not on communities
  • You’re committed to making your business idea financially sustainable as quickly as possible
  • You or your team are able to commit at least eight hours per week for six months to meeting coaches, and well as completing live and asynchronous coursework 

We are especially interested in entrepreneurs who want to serve communities that don’t often see themselves or their stories reflected in their local news.

Who is eligible to apply?
  • You should be based in and servicing news consumers in the U.S. or Canada.
  • You should be comfortable with written and spoken English, as all sessions and coursework will be in English only for this session.
  • You can join as an individual founder or as a founding team; we want a founder or someone from the senior leadership team to primarily participate in this program, but there will be opportunities for other team members to participate also.
How many people are you selecting to participate?

We'll be selecting up to 12 independent digital news publications to participate.

Where will the Lab be held?

The Lab is intentionally designed to be an online experience because we want you to stay in your community and to do the work in that context.

What is the format of the Lab?

There will be live sessions most weeks. Once participants are selected, we can choose the day/time that works best for everyone. The sessions will also be recorded for later viewing. Most weeks, teams will have a one-on-one coaching session with their to-be-assigned mentor. Teams can select this time each week based on their schedules.

Some weeks there will be extra “expert” sessions, where teams can meet with subject matter experts to advance their business goals.

In between our live sessions, we’ll communicate using a chat platform that’s comfortable for everyone, e.g., Slack, private Facebook or LinkedIn group, etc.

How many hours per week will I need to invest?

The Lab should complement the efforts you’re already making in running your news business. That being said, you should be able to budget between 3 to 8 hours per week to attend and participate in coursework and coaching sessions; expect the early portion of the program to be intensive, with time commitments gradually easing over time.

How do I participate in the program?

Applications are now open, and you can apply here by January 24, 2021. When applying, you will be asked to provide information about the performance and objectives of your existing independent news business.

Does applying for the GNI Startup Lab preclude me from applying for other GNI-related programs or funding?

No, it doesn’t. You should apply to whatever opportunities are best suited for you at this moment –– applying to multiple ones will not help or hurt your chances of being selected. 

What if I’m not ready to apply for this now? Will there be future opportunities to work with GNI Startups Lab?

We hope so! This is a pilot program and our hope is that we can continue to offer more of these Labs in the future. Make sure to sign up for our entrepreneurial journalism community on this page so that you can stay updated on future opportunities to work with us.

If I already submitted my application, but then need to update my submission, how do I submit an updated application? 

You will be able to edit your submission until the end of the application period on Jan 24, 2021.

Are you looking for volunteer coaches and mentors for the boot camp?

Yes. Absolutely. If you have expertise in a specific area like sales, marketing, finance or accounting, law relating to new business, or presentation coaching, we'd really like to hear from you; please reach out to 

I have more questions! Who can I talk to?

If you're unable to attend the to-be-scheduled mid-January information session then please reach out to LION's Startups Lab program manager Lisa, at

GNI Startups Lab is a collaboration

The Google News Initiative is Google’s effort to work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age. Our efforts focus on three pillars: working with the news industry to evolve their business models and drive sustainable growth, elevating quality journalism and empowering news organizations with new technology. 

LION Publishers is a journalism association supporting independent online news publishers. Our mission is to help existing and aspiring local news entrepreneurs build and grow financially sustainable small businesses. LION members are creating the future of local news with independently owned and operated businesses that directly serve their communities. Learn more about becoming a member.

Please wait