Amy Eisman, School of Communication

Director Media Entrepreneurship & Interactive Journalism

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  • MAME Reboot 

    As our stellar group of students in MAME Cohort three moves into the spring semester and the completion of their program, the Master’s program is going to take some time to review — just like a startup — what works, what doesn’t, and what is the best way to get our content to a large number of people. We have plenty of assets with which to work — strong students and alums and faculty; a great partnership with our business school; a great partnership with 1776. But we think there may be more that we can do, so we are going to hit the pause button in May and look at the best way to reboot. More to come!


  • More for our first MAME graduate 

    Dena Levitz has a career that just keeps getting more and more interesting. After her whirlwind global tour as a fellow for 1776, now she is joining a startup — in Dublin.

    Dena tells me she will be a senior researcher on the speakers team at an Irish startup called Ci Labs, a fast-growing, 100-person biz. “Ci brings together world leaders and cutting-edge thinkers to put on major tech events. Web Summit, its flagship event, takes place in Dublin each November and is the largest tech gathering in Europe,” she emails. Dena will identify the most interesting trends and stories and bring those to life.


  • How to teach Media Entrepreneurship 

    Here is the recent #EdShift talk by educators on teaching media entrepreneurship. Impressed with what I heard from colleagues …


  • Apply for AU MA/Media Entrepreneurship; Grad Open House June 20 


    Hope your summer is off to a great start!


    I wanted to share a quick update on the American University MA in Media Entrepreneurship program and ask your help getting out the word to encourage potential candidates to attend the open house taking place at AU on June 20.

    We’re taking applications for fall, for our fourth cohort of MAME students. It seems like yesterday that the first group arrived. Between the innovative ideas they bring to the program and the way they work hands-on with professors from the School of Communication and Kogod School of Business, these folks are eager to build skill sets that cross media and businesses.

    I recently asked Jessica R. Towhey, a Cohort 3 student halfway through the program, if she had thoughts to share. She came to MAME after starting a small company called 2E Communications with a few ideas of where the firm could go. “Since entering the program, my business has evolved into successful ventures that I had not previously considered,” Towhey says, adding “it’s clear that everyone involved in the program is vested in its success, and more importantly, in the success of the students.”

    Dena Levitz, who graduated in our first cohort, is another great story. Within weeks of getting her degree, she scored a fellowship with the downtown startup hub 1776 that sent her literally around the world. Over the course of six months, she visited 16 cities and heard over 400 start-up pitches. Updates on other alums are here.

    If you know someone who shares that same passion for cutting-edge ideas, but lacks the new venture creation background, skills, tools and network to bring them to market, feel free to tell them why this program could help.

    Convenient timing tailored to students. Part-time program — 30 credits, 10 courses, meets every other Saturday and one night a week. About half the courses are in SOC and half are entrepreneurship/new venture courses in the business school.

    The program intersects key new venture creation areas. SOC and Kogod are D.C. leaders in media, business, and entrepreneurship. When you come here, you can work on a startup or you can gain the mindset and skill sets for creating innovation within your current firm or nonprofit organization.

    MAME draws creative thinkers. We’ve intentionally designed the program for people who want to make a difference, have an impact and create new, exciting ventures/projects within their existing organizations or strike out to create a new profit or nonprofit venture. This program provides the multiple communication, business and entrepreneurial mindsets, skills and tools needed to pull it off.

    The courses are experiential and real world. Learn everything from creating an entrepreneurial mindset, ideation to business plans, how to operate a new venture, managing media technology to the law behind setting up a media business and a new venture.

    Networking with the best. Students in the program have access to programs and facilities at 1776, with innovative global connections. It is where President Obama stopped by when he made a speech about the economy.

    Access to the Kogod AU Entrepreneurship Incubator. Any active AU graduate or undergraduate student can apply to be accepted into the Kogod entrepreneurship incubator program. If accepted, the team receives resources and support to turn ideas into ventures.

    If you know someone who wants to learn more about the program and the incoming class that begins in September, encourage them join our upcoming Open House and Graduate Fair, Saturday, June 20, from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., or email me directly at


    Director, Media Entrepreneurship





  • DC tech startup scene 2015 — a revolution? 

    From Re/Code May 2015 on 1776, the startup hub (“Are DC Startups Seeding the Next Revoluion?” by Amy Schatz):

    “So many politicians want to use the space for photo ops that Harris and Burfield now require them to actually do something for the 1776 community, whether it’s meeting with local startups before the cameras start rolling or having their aides added to the incubator’s growing network of regulators and elected officials.”


  • MAME update: Where are they now? 


    The MA in Media Entrepreneurship program launched in 2012; since then two classes have graduated, one in 2014 and one this past spring.

    Where are they now? Here are a few updates.

    Jesse Bickford, MAME ’14, reports that he started this summer as a digital analyst at Krypton Venture Capital.  He is based in Tel Aviv for the company that invests in B2C media, tech, gaming and marketplace companies, and which is looking at investing in new ways.

    Jesse had been with a startup; now in his new gig he will tackle web analytics, biz ops analysis and digital marketing. He also will help with digital tasks. “MAME has prepped me for both worlds,” he writes in an email, “and without the MA, I couldn’t have been considered for the position.”

    Another MAME ’14 alum now is also an adjunct professor; Chris Lewis, WAMU’s Director of Digital Media (then and now) is teaching the newest cohort of MAME AU students in Media Technology Management. Topics cover everything from strategic planning to project management, from ideation to analytics.10275365_10154063810595241_1888051797441276473_o

    During his program, Chris launched at WAMU,  a site digging into the regional music scene by featuring original videos and reporting.

    I’ve already written about Dena Levitz, MAME ’14, who traveled the world for startup hub 1776, listening to 400 pitches in 16 cities across the globe. Dena’s advice is here.  (400 pitches! Listen to her, please!)

    Once MAME14’s Shannan Bowen Stevens completed the program, she moved from Atlantic Media Strategies to her role leading audience development and engagement at The Hill in Washington, D.C. She advises on social media strategies across the news and business departments. Web analytics and social media again play a big role.DeafTV

    And of course there is the indefatigable Travis Dougherty MAME ’14; you will remember him shaking President Obama’s hand last year at a 1776 event.

    Today, as marketing manager for Access Interpreting, Travis has helped beta test an on-demand, remote video interpreting app at the National Institutes of Health. He also is consulting with several small startups involved with sign language users; and last year former DC Mayor Vincent Gray named Travis to the then-DC Council for Innovation and Technology Inclusion.

    These stories show the breadth of the program, which focuses as much on intrapreneurship as startups, particularly in a town where working from the inside is a highly valued skill.


  • 30 years in the future: 3-D food printers, cancer cures, smart edtech 

    This weekend 1776 wraps its global challenge cup competition; in Friday night’s keynote rounds, leading experts shared their visions of the world in 2045. Summaries are here. It was a packed theater, despite the Wizards (losing) across the street.

    What I heard:

    — Rwanda will be the “Korea” of Africa

    — Many cancers will be cured; “chemo viewed as blood letting”

    — Smartphones will be used by 7 in 10 humans

    — 3-D food printers will be “a common kitchen appliance,” like the microwave

    — The term “quantified self” covers when you capture self-data, such as on a Fitbit

    But most interesting to me was the Q&A with DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, whose calm, charm and grace held us spellbound as she painted a vision for the future of K-12.

    Henderson sees tests as receding; after all, we don’t get tests in the workplace at the end of each day. She sees a future of “beyond the tests. … We are thinking of students learning through project-based” assignments, done in teams.

    She says the school system is also rethinking the approach to careers, with a new emphasis in DC on technology education such as engineering, IT, hospitality and tourism. She told the story of T-Street Games, named for the technology school McKinley’s street address (T), started by students and set up at 1776 after they worked with Microsoft.

    Henderson also dreamed of a city bathed in WIFI, lamenting how she can’t get bandwidth in even some of her most advanced schools. And she admonished the bureaucracy for putting so much content behind firewalls, forcing teachers to beg for access even to show educational videos on YouTube.

    In the end, however, Henderson told a room full of techies that they need to be more targeted in designing future ed tech. “Ed Techies are coming up with ‘cool’ projects and apps,” she said, but not ones necessarily solving problems for educators. The designers are not sitting next to teachers, finding out what they need.

    The whole evening, kicked off by 1776 co-founder Donna Harris, was refreshing as we listened to new and exciting ideas rather than focus on the failures of old stale ones.






  • MAME program draws attention 


    I am honored beyond belief to be included on a list of DC digerati in Washingtonian Magazine in May. Major-ly humbled, but so happy to be among people I so admire, like Donna Harris and Evan Burfield of 1776. What this really points out is SOC’s embrace of new programs by a full SOC faculty always looking around the corner to where media are going.


  • 16 cities, 6 months, 400 startup pitches: How to ‘hook someone in’ 

    The first student to enter, and thus graduate, American University’s Media Entrepreneurship program, Dena Levitz, just returned from a whirlwind tour of, well, the planet as the reporting fellow for 1776, the hot startup hub and incubator in downtown, Washington, D.C.

    Dena visited me the other day at the School of Communication’s rooftop terrace, and I was so blown away by her worldwide wrap-up I asked if we could follow with a Q&A. She also will speak soon to the students who are graduating in May.

    For context, Dena’s itinerary included stops in Tel Aviv, Amman, Nairobi, Bangalore, Toronto, Dublin, Berlin and Mexico City. Domestically she went to 1776 Challenge Cup events in Boston, Chicago, SF, DC and Austin. Phew. I asked her a few questions; her responses, with some editing for clarity and space, are below.


    Q: So you just heard 400 pitches around the world. What should a starter startup never do?

    It’s easy for entrepreneurs who have been working on an idea nonstop to get way too “inside baseball” about their company, especially when they try to explain it to others. Too many of the startup founders I saw did a pitch and they got fixated on one aspect of their business.

    If it was an app they’d rattle off … every technical feature they’d built and fallen in love with. But the audience would have had no idea what was the basic premise of the app, what it actually did or who it was for. To this, I’d say practice the pitch in front of a layman, someone’s who not in that field or is not even in a startup. Anyone’s grandmother with no context or subject matter knowledge should be able to listen to a pitch and come away … able to, on a basic level, get what your business is.

    When a Minute Feels Long

    It may sound obvious but I saw a lot of startups get tripped up in the actual delivery of the pitch. For Challenge Cup they were doing one-minute pitches. It sounds like absolutely no time to explain anything of substance, but, really, if you plan out that minute well, you can say quite a lot.

    Instead, what many founders would do was speed through, pack in what they’d say for two minutes into one minute so they were talking with the speed of an auctioneer. A pitch should actually be a story, when all is said and done. There should be a compelling beginning to hook someone in. You can’t say everything about a startup in a minute or a few minutes. But hit the highlights — there’s a $4 billion market, this is technology that is patented and no one else has, you have traction within the first few months — and then leave the investor or the crowd intrigued and excited enough that they want to know more.


    “Please, please, please do not create another application that you claim will solve a city’s parking woes.”


    Q: Any apps to avoid?

    Please, please, please do not create another application that you claim will solve a city’s parking woes. We saw so many startups that are in the area of parking — specifically helping drivers figure out where there are open spots and, in some cases, allowing them to pay for the spaces via their phone. They were very similar solutions that are blended together, and, in the end, only one parking startup was a winner in all of the cities we visited.

    Parking: Small. Replacing cars? Big

    No one denies that parking can be a big gripe, and there are too many cars on the roads and, sometimes, nowhere for them to go. But ultimately just helping drivers find a place to temporarily park their vehicles isn’t solving the bigger transportation issues we have as a society. I’m much more excited by apps and solutions that are getting cars off of the roadways or allowing more people to utilize hybrid vehicles which are more transformative concepts. Rideshare apps, electric bikes. We saw a company that’s creating kits to turn any car into a hybrid. That kind of thing is much more exciting than just another parking app.

    Q: What characterizes a good startup idea? A bad one?

    I think first and foremost, a startup should be solving a clearly articulated problem. Everything builds off of that. A good startup also has a specific customer in mind and tests, asks and checks in with that customer to improve its product constantly. Often the solution starts simple and gets better and better because the startup’s founding team is open-minded enough to listen and adapt.

    A bad startup doesn’t differentiate itself. It’s not nimble and it doesn’t adapt as it goes. A bad founding team, similarly, is a group of people who all have the same strengths, weaknesses and abilities. Diversity of ideas and skills is so key.

    Q: Your biggest takeaway from interviewing startups around the world?

    I think what struck me is how much of a difference the entrepreneur or entrepreneurs behind the business make. There really is no such thing as a purely original idea, so the experience, the background and the passion of the startup’s founding team matters quite a bit in differentiating what they’re doing. There inevitably will be stumbles and missteps along the way, so having co-founders who can persevere and pivot when needed is critical.

    I was constantly really inspired by the entrepreneurs I met. In some cases they were taking really personal problems that had affected them and turning them into viable businesses that could both solve these problems and make money in order to be sustainable. For instance a startup called SheFighter was launched by a woman in Jordan who had witnessed her friend’s physical abuse at the hands of the friend’s father and brother. (She) had a martial arts background and decided she wanted to start a company that helped Middle Eastern women fight back. It’s a feel-good idea but she also has a franchise business model which is allowing the startup to scale. So far she’s trained thousands in Jordan alone and is spreading to Africa, the U.S. and on and on. That’s what entrepreneurship should be about.
    (note from Amy Eisman: an earlier version said the trip was done in eight months; I should have said six.)



  • Another industry leader joins MAME advisory group 


    I am so pleased to share that Caroline Campbell, Senior VP at AOL, has joined the Accelerator Group for the MA in Media Entrepreneurship program. She spoke to a class, wowed the students, and agreed to help us think through our next steps. Welcome, Caroline.



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