A sea change in the media and communication fields has led to the need to completely revisit the old strategies, storytelling techniques and business models. For communicators and entrepreneurs preparing to enter this brave new world, this change presents an abundance of opportunities to find the innovative solutions of the future.

To that end, students from the University of Oregon (UO) School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) teamed up over winter term with students from the UO Lundquist College of Business to participate in a global competition called the International Innovators Cup.

Sponsored by Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University, the Innovators Cup is the top prize offered for the Scripps College Innovation Challenge, a worldwide competition that invites teams of students interested in media and entrepreneurship to come together to create a video pitch for their best business idea addressing a challenge that the media industry faces.

“The media industry is in flux right now, and this competition is an exciting way for the students to begin building the future,” said Todd Milbourn, an SOJC instructor who also teaches entrepreneurship courses in the business school.

Milbourn seeded two teams through his J410 and J510 Media Entrepreneurship courses. Both teams chose to tackle the challenge of improving online comment sections. They each researched a business model and talked to potential customers, businesses and digital news executives. Each team presented their research in a “kick-start” video for a panel of judges that included SOJC faculty members as well as Chris Watkins ’14, a Lundquist College of Business alum and the CEO of CowBucker, a Eugene start-up company.

After careful consideration, the UO judges chose Team Dyno to send their video to a panel of judges at Ohio University. Team Dyno’s research concentrated on the issue of audiences’ lack of interaction with online content and the static comments posted in discussion sections.

The five Dyno Team members — Mecca Ray-Rouse, Kyle Hentschel, Jackson Houdek, Aisha Pai and Amanda Linares — came up with the idea of placing conversation strings next to various sections of articles to seed more direct conversations among specific audiences.

“Since the challenge was about incentivizing your audience to help tell stories, we wanted to make the incentive more psychological instead of forcing something tangible. We thought that was unrealistic,” said Ray-Rouse. “So we decided to focus on the idea of making commenting easier and more interactive.”

Team Dyno found that, as a result of this approach, irrelevant comments dispersed, and annotations allowed commenters and readers to elevate the discussion.

The panel of judges will be evaluating a total of eight videos submitted from colleges around the nation, including the University of Oregon, University of Nevada, University of Florida, Texas Tech University, Valley City State University, Southern Illinois University and Xavier University in Louisiana. Participants will be judged on their video and a written deliverable that uses their business model as a guide. The winning team will be announced on April 13, and the winner will go home with $5,000 and bragging rights.

“It’s exciting to have an energetic space where students can play a leadership role in inventing the future,” said Milbourn. “Entrepreneurship skills are among the core skills that storytellers need to succeed now.”

Story by Nikki Kesaris ‘18