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Q and A: Cory Donovan, Project Liberty Digital Incubator


Cory Donovan took over as Project Manager at Project Liberty Digital Incubator this past July, charged with the task of helping participants RumbleStartUP Production and Transout navigate through sometimes rocky startup waters. The three fledgling companies are smack in the center of operations at, helmed by Interstate General Media.

Donovan relocated to Philadelphia from Virginia this past winter when his wife moved north. We decided to subject Donovan to The Spolan Effect. No harsh lighting, drills or dental equipment were used during the course of this interview.

Keystone Edge (KE): It's been almost three months since you took over as Project Manager at Project Liberty. We thought we'd check in and see how things are going. What's your day-to-day routine?
Cory Donovan (CD): Every day is different and I like that. I focus on how I can add value – for the companies being incubated, for Interstate General Media (IGM), and for Project Liberty itself. At times I’m facilitating between those parties and other times I’m providing direct support to one of the incubator companies.

KE: What have the challenges been?
CD: Project Liberty is housed at Interstate General Media and there are three companies in the current class.  We have a number of partners that support this effort including The Knight FoundationBen Franklin Technology PartnersDrexel University, and DreamIt Ventures. When I started, I didn’t just have to learn one organization, I had to learn how each of the partners played a role in the incubator, their expectations, etc.

KE: How does your experience at Project Liberty differ from your previous work as Executive Director at the Roanoke – Blacksburg Technology Council (RBTC)?
CD: At the RBTC, we had more than 200 member companies that spanned many tech industries and we covered the entire region. At Project Liberty, we have three companies in the incubator that are developing within the media industry. So, my efforts now are more focused within the world of apps, mobile and ecommerce. Project Liberty is good for the Philly tech and startup community and I like contributing to the bigger picture.

KE: Can you briefly describe the work of each company at PL?
CD: Rumble News offers newspapers a solution to engage with their customers who are using mobile devices. The Rumble platform includes everything a media organization will need to produce its own mobile app including front end designs, analytics, and monetization tools.

tapCLIQ is a user engagement and advertising platform developed and optimized for mobile devices. By improving the user experience on mobile devices, tapCLIQ enables mobile app developers to monetize their products and improves the value proposition for advertisers.

Zaahah instantly connects users interested in the same topic across search, social networking, content & ecommerce sites. Users are empowered to connect, communicate and build collaborative communities around common interests.

KE: What kinds of changes are you seeing in the participating companies?
CD: Things change daily, and sometimes hourly, for startups. All three are continuing to fine-tune their products and marketing, and remain focused on raising investment. As each incubator company interfaces with Interstate General Media, they’re learning more about how a multi-dimensional media company works and are getting an opportunity to test assumptions and technology.

KE: Has PL been helpful to the companies? How?
CD: The opportunity to test your assumptions and technology is very valuable for a start-up. Most ideas and businesses don’t actually play out the way the entrepreneur initially envisioned. The only way to figure out what works is to get out there and start doing it, then adjust as necessary. Project Liberty allows start-up companies to do this with the opportunity to work from within at IGM and also learn the many facets of the media business. In addition, we have some powerful partners that help make connections with investors, open doors to potential customers, and provide other forms of support through advising and mentoring.

KE: Do continuing changes in the media landscape affect the environment at Project Liberty?
CD: The changing nature of the media landscape is the reason Project Liberty exists. The challenges the newspaper business faces are what creates opportunities for these startups. What we’re trying to do at Project Liberty is to connect those dots, forming new growth businesses here in Philadelphia, while at the same time, making our local news source and its products healthier in the process.

KE: If I asked you to take me to your leader, where would we go?
CD: We have many valuable partners and advisors to the incubator. However, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania is the operator of Project Liberty and best advisor on daily issues of importance.

KE: What's your favorite lunch spot?
CD: With the move to our new location, there are many more lunch options to choose from and it’s fantastic. Having said that, I really enjoy the spicy beef quesadilla at El Fuego on Walnut Street between 7th and 8th. It’s got some kick – so good!

KE: What kinds of developments do you hope to see moving forward, both for you and for PL?
CD: For the three companies that are currently here, I’d like to see continued growth and success. Project Liberty is a great example of how a large company can help support the local startup/entrepreneur scene. There may be opportunities to expand or replicate this program elsewhere in the United States.

For me personally, I’m still relatively new to the area and am looking to connect with the various corners of our community. We need to leverage both our collective knowledge and network to ensure continued success for Philadelphia and our local tech scene.

SUE SPOLAN is Flying Kite's former Innovation & Jobs News editor and currently is Media Content Director for Scribewise. Send feedback here.

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