Gannett innovation grants give employees space for new product incubation

By L. Carol Christopher


Pleasant Hill, California, USA


Editor’s note: This is one of 17 case studies featured in INMA’s strategic report “How Media Companies Embrace the Process of Innovation.” 

Gannett set out to create a programme that combines the best features of an employee idea-generation programme and an innovation incubator. 

The concept was founded on the idea of leveraging the best of Gannett: its employees and their knowledge of the media industry. 

With that in mind, the company started its Innovation Grants fund to allow for many small bets. There were congruent goals of nurturing innovation skills in Gannett’s employees, making opportunities for people to work on innovation projects, and developing new product offerings for the company. 

Ultimately, the grants programme aims to give time and space for new product ideas to be imagined and incubated. 

An open call for idea submissions went out, asking for a quick product pitch and video. Ideas ranged from digital and mobile projects to new potential revenue streams. Gannet executives judged the “pitch day,” selecting eight teams comprised of 30 employees. These started a four-month programme. 

Among the Gannett Innovation Grants ideas selected: 

    • MiGo: local events discovery leveraging Gannett event desks. 

    • Go Grocery: helps you choose better at the grocery store. 

  • Busy Kids: finds the best local activities for your kids. 

  • Tykester: connects parents with their kids in day care. 

  • Towny: solves the question of what’s good to do tonight. 

  • FOMO: taking awkwardness out of planning group activities. 

  • HulaHoop: assistance for parents with carpooling. 

  • Find Me Band: so people can stay connected with loved ones. 

What did Gannett get out of this programme? At least five new products, two team members selected for new positions, a grants submission platform, and a mini-MBA bi-annual programme.

Throughout the programme, the teams learned and applied human-centered design, product-development skills, market positioning, and business-model development. This was a great career opportunity for the team members and also supported them in taking their idea from basic concept to a fully fleshed-out product pitch. 

After pitching to Gannett’s CEO and executive team, some of the products moved forward to launch with an additional new offering in development. Some programme participants also moved on to new positions within Gannett based on the strength of their work on the grants programme. Many of the participants commented that they felt as if they had done a “mini MBA” and innovation boot camp. 

About L. Carol Christopher

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