08/10/2012 08:54 BST | Updated 05/12/2012 05:12 GMT

8 Week Startup Experiment at 153-year-old Newspaper, The Irish Times, concludes with data visualization startup 'GetBulb' Winning €50,000 Prize

In a recent post at the HuffPost UK I wrote about my conversations with Liam Kavanagh, Managing Director of The Irish Times Group, on the lessons learned from The Digital Challenge.

GetBulb, the startup that allows media organisations to rapidly produce data visualisations for high resolution print, and for interactive online graphics, has been named Winner of The Irish Times Digital Challenge. It won the €50,000 convertible loan note from DFJ Esprit at the Grand Finale event last Friday at The Workman's Club, on Dublin's Wellington Quay. To get a sense of the event, and Oliver's reaction to being named winner of the first Irish Times Digital Challenge, see the video below.

You can also see coverage at The Next Web, and at GigaOM/

It's worth recapping on The Digital Challenge. GetBulb was one of five startups selected by a panel of entrepreneurs and VCs to enter The Irish Times for eight weeks as part of The Irish Times Digital Challenge. I set up this startup experiment to build long term, mutually beneficial relationships with the next wave of disruptors. If you are going to disrupt our industry we want to work with you. In 1994 The Irish Times was one of the first half dozen newspapers to launch an online edition in 1994. Now we are rekindling that spirit of experimentation.

A judging panel of tech entrepreneurs, investors, and senior staff from Irish Times, including Kevin O'Sullivan, the Editor, used two criteria to judge the startups: most significant reader impact, and most significant revenue potential. The €50,000 prize comes in the form of a convertible loan note from venture capital firm DFJ Esprit.

Brian Caulfield, a partner at London-based venture capital firm DFJ Esprit and a director of The Irish Times, said "GetBulb has enormous potential for reader engagement, and a differentiated approach to revenue".

Each of the finalist startups had an opportunity to work with The Irish Times Group and leverage its as a channel to customers. They also received a small stipend provided by Enterprise Ireland, and benefitted from focus group, legal and accounting services from Amarach Research, Arthur Cox, and KPMG. In addition, The Irish Times is providing each finalist with marketing to a value of €10,000. As part of the Challenge GetBulb and the four finalists will all present to investors at the 2012 Web Summit.

The startups acted as agents of change within The Irish Times. Introducing highly motivated external startup teams into a 153 year old organisation, and giving them a license to engage with anyone anywhere, inevitably forces the people they interact with to think about their jobs in new ways.

In a recent post at the HuffPost UK I wrote about my conversations with Liam Kavanagh, Managing Director of The Irish Times Group, on the lessons learned from The Digital Challenge. As Liam said, "There were risks. Serious ones. We have been a very heavily print dominated and very traditional news organisation. This project required us to come out of our comfort zone. I was conscious that the organization could have rejected the digital disruptors when they arrived, which would have posed serious difficulties. If we did not embrace this Challenge then it would have said serious things about whether the organisation could change. I took the risk. My faith paid off".

Speaking to the crowd at Friday's Grand Finale, Kevin O'Sullivan, Editor of The Irish Times, said "The challenges facing the newspaper industry force us to be innovative, and to think more like a start-up than we might otherwise do. This may be no bad thing. In fact, it may mark the beginning of a renaissance period for news media...that is provided the relationship is genuine and sustained".

The startups all participated in an incubation programme within The Irish Times by NDRC LaunchPad. Gary Leyden, Director of LaunchPad, said "Startups need customer validation. Large enterprises need access to innovation. By working together through The Digital Challenge both parties achieve real benefit".

A model for other media organisations

The Irish Times Digital Challenge may be a model for other media organisations. Liam Kavanagh, Managing Director of The Irish Times Group, said "I think, knowing what we know now, that the incubator inside the media organization model is something that others need to consider. And we would like to help them with that".

Kevin O'Sullivan, Editor of The Irish Times, said "The Irish Times Digital Challenge has shown that media organisations can, and I think should, work with early stage digital companies. We have a lot to offer each other. Other media organisations can, and I expect will, embrace this model. Newspapers talk about adapting to the new realities, but if they are going to fully change and engage their core audiences they must open up to the most disruptive external influences and endure all that this entails".

The experience of brining disruptors into a large media organization has uncovered several key lessons. The next Challenge, when we announce it, will be more focused. That's a key lesson: select startups that can work on one common area of the organisation so that their impact is maximised.

Incentivising staff to work with startups is key. We are going to build in measures that make it easier for our staff to buy-in and feel attached to the startups' projects.

We are also going to be more ambitious. This initiative has shown that we can work with startups to launch projects in under 8 weeks. That's a record.

About the startups:

Video introductions to each of the startups are online at

GetBulb (Winner of The Irish Times Digital Challenge)

GetBulb radically simplifies the production of data visualisation for print and online interactive graphics.


StoryFlow data mines news sites' articles to draw a simple visual navigation or chart of related articles so that reader can quick find related articles and quickly grasp the bigger picture behind a story.


PicTurk offers a platform for running photography competitions, allowing entrants to upload their images, protect their rights, and attract votes. The Irish Times is using PicTurk to run a new Amateur Photographer of the Year Awards ( PicTurk is also producing The Irish Times' first e-book.


MyiFli allows publishers and advertisers produce standalone mobile experiences with minimal effort.

Knockon is a community on for lovers of amateur club rugby in Ireland.