Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Vngle

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One-line solution summary:

A blockchain-based grassroots news network training citizens to bring "various angles" of verifiable coverage to underrepresented areas.

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Pitch your solution.

Vngle is committed to solving the growing crisis of news deserts that disproportionately leave communities of color ill-represented and informed. Over the past 15 years, the United States alone lost over 2,100 local outlets, leading to over 64% of U.S. counties, millions of people, having little to no access to daily original news on their area. Along with this, many local outlets have historically neglected minority communities, thus news deserts have exacerbated the representation disparity faced by many underrepresented demographics. 

Vngle's creating an equitable decentralized approach to local reporting that brings nonpartisan coverage to underreported geographic and demographic areas through a gig-economy model that verifies and trains local citizens with smartphones to serve as reporters and editors for the areas they live. Through scaling globally, we seek to make verifiable news mainstream, where anyone can check the origin of where, when, & how stories are captured through a public ledger.

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

We're solving how to best catalyze civic engagement in marginalized areas via verifiable grassroots news. Through enabling cross-cultural communities to mobilize awareness around their underrepresented affairs and concerns, we're giving them a transparent platform to represent their rich culture by controlling their neglected narratives with verifiable reporting.

The growth of news deserts has exacerbated the representation disparity faced by BIPOC communities across the USA. Over 2000 of the 3143 counties in America don't receive daily original news, however, that's only a geographic scope that doesn't account for the millions of underrepresented people in underreported communities who never receive fair equitable coverage due to a legacy of bias and neglect. Also, news deserts exist across the globe, ranging from parts of Canada, Australia, Brazil, Africa, etc.  

The major factors that contribute to this are the demise of the centuries-old traditional news model and the industry's inability to take new innovative approaches to cater to modern consumers.

Because of this:

  • ½ of all U.S. newspapers are now owned by hedge funds.
  • Only 17% of the news stories provided to a community are truly local to them.
  • The public has huge distrust in news due to polarization and a lack of transparent fact-checking.
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What is your solution?

Vngle is a decentralized blockchain-based grassroots news network that’s training local citizens with HD smartphones to bring verifiable nonpartisan video-based coverage to underrepresented communities. We tackle geographic and demographic news deserts by deploying a gig-economy platform that equips locals with the skills needed to serve as reporters & editors for the areas they live in. We recruit all cross-cultural backgrounds across cities to ensure our coverage is equitable and authentically reflects the needs of all constituents.

To create our transparent verifiable processes, we’re leveraging blockchain technology to create a public ledger into our reporting by showing exactly where, when, & how our stories are captured. Vngle’s innovation lies in our ability to create more granular local news without the traditional brick & mortar costs. By merging new tech, journalism, & people-powered social organizing techniques, we’re creating real-time sourcing & distribution of vetted information from across cities while bringing attention to pressing underrepresented matters through the lens of local residents.

We have a 6-step reporting process.

1. A Story request is created.

2. Verified Reporter is assigned.

3. Assignment is submitted.

4. Local Editorial Team Receives.

5. Fact checked + Produced.

6. Published & Reporter is paid.

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

At Vngle, civically-minded locals in BIPOC communities who deeply care about the cross-cultural & political affairs that surround them (locally, county-wide, state-wide, etc), power our grassroots news. We empower them with deeper local insights & the ability to bring more attention to underrepresented geographic or demographic matters by equipping them with the news training needed to represent their areas. 

Our starting target audiences are Gen-Z and Millennials in communities, who are the most socially conscious and tech-savvy, yet whom studies show ⅔ feel disconnected locally (however, our news coverage is for the broad regional area). By bringing coverage to these underreported areas, Vngle is getting locals engaged and better informed on the hyper-local affairs around them. Through offering verifiable video-based grassroots coverage, to communities by their fellow community members, we're winning over their trust in ways that traditional journalists "parachuting" into their communities aren't able to. Plus, we are becoming a beacon for broadcasting and preserving local cultural heritage.

In regards to connecting with and understanding our target population, we have been conducting direct grassroots outreach through community events and created partnerships with local elected officials. During COVID-19 we switched to hosting virtual and socially distant events. For instance, when the pandemic hit, we hosted an online stakeholder discussion in our beta city (College Park, Georgia) for local business leaders to discuss the new challenges they face adjusting to COVID-19. An example of one of our socially distant events was when our team hosted a 3-city driving demonstration after the death of George Floyd to allow the public to safely express themselves during the pandemic. 

Our organization's local recognition grew as the host of these interesting mid-pandemic events. This helped stimulate our brand’s reputation while attracting partnership interests from local businesses along with the City of College Park's Mayor & Council to accelerate our understanding of these target areas. Such interests led us to co-hosting town halls and helping the city address having the lowest 2020 Census participation across two counties.

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Other
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Explain how the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge.

The problem is aligned because news deserts have a disproportionately negative effect on BIPOC communities depriving them of an essential institution for exposing wrongdoing, encouraging civic engagement, and holding government entities, officers, and politicians accountable.
Our decentralized solution is aligned because it ensures these underrepresented communities can receive verifiable grassroots-level news coverage without the need for traditional brick-and-mortar infrastructure. Giving communities the power to tell their own narratives.
Our target population is aligned because Gen-Z and Millenials are literally the future of BIPOC communities and are severely disconnected to traditionally local news, thus severely disconnected to their own communities.

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In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Atlanta, Georgia, USA
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What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community.
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Explain why you selected this stage of development for your solution.

We launched our beta in College Park, GA, a city apart of the Atlanta Metropolitan area, and have over 1,000 subscribers participating in early testing. Through this work, we've landed partnerships with both local businesses and elected officials in College Park and beyond it. In fact, our work caught the attention of the Chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners (College Park is in Fulton County), who wants to work with us to grow our grassroots coverage to underrepresented areas across Atlanta and the other 14 cities that encompass the county.

Also, state officials really trust us and want to see our coverage expand to their districts. One State Senator felt Georgia needs nonpartisan coverage so much, he gave us his office at the Capitol to use as a base. Another State Senate candidate exclusively requested Vngle to broadcast their press conference after being arrested following a predatory eviction.

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Blake Stoner

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More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
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What makes your solution innovative?

The innovation behind Vngle’s approach lies in our ability to empower local citizens from all walks of life to work together to create more granular & authenticated cross-cultural local broadcast news for their city, all without the traditional brick & mortar costs. By merging blockchain technology, journalism, & people-powered social organizing techniques, we are creating real-time sourcing & distribution of vetted information from across cities while bringing attention to pressing underrepresented matters that you can only get through the lens of a local resident. Vngle expands the local news ecosystem and fills in the gaps that news deserts create by allowing the public to contribute to what is deemed newsworthy for their area. Through equipping the public with the skills and training needed to become journalists & editors, we serve as the people’s publisher, able to create new credible narratives for the underrepresented. 

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Blockchain
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • LGBTQ+
  • Rural
  • Peri-Urban
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
  • Persons with Disabilities
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 10. Reduced Inequality
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 16. Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
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In which states / US territories do you currently operate?

  • Georgia
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In which states / US territories will you be operating within the next year?

  • Georgia
  • Texas
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How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

We currently have over 1,000 subscribers participating in early beta testing within a single city in Georgia.

In one year, we will be targeting the more than 416,000 Gen-Z and Millenials from ages 20 to 35 who are homeowners in Georgia and most prone to interests in their local community (during this time we will be planting seeds in Texas, but not yet serving Texas).

In Five years: we will be targeting the close to 25,000,000 Gen-Z and Millenials from ages 20 to 35 who are homeowners across the United States

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

# of pressing underreported stories covered:

At Vngle, we’re shifting the narrative surrounding what’s happening in underrepresented parts of America, and by doing so we’re telling the untold stories that are hidden to the public & creating levels of accountability around them too. 

# of grassroots reporters involved per community:

We’re building a consistent journalistic backbone for these communities, many of which have been unheard, forgotten, or inadequately served for too long. Through our verifiable grassroots approach, we are ensuring every community is heard and their culture is transparent. 

# of grassroots reporters per city per represented demogrpahic

By equipping locals to take control of the journalistic process in a vetted way, their communities will get more real-time, ultra-authentic, and in-depth comprehensive coverage that’s inclusive of people from all walks of life. This truly cross-cultural coverage enables these areas to share their realities with a broader regional community and build local momentum around granular hyper-local topics. 

Through this, Vngle serves as an avenue for verifiable stories that cut through the noise and help the public engage with deeper local insights that would normally be swept under the rug.

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About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models

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How many people work on your solution team?

Full-time: 1 (Blake Stoner)

Part-time: 4

Contractor: 1

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How long have you been working on your solution?

I started Vngle 3 years ago as a solo founder.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

My passion for communities comes from working in them my whole life. I've been knocking on doors and registering people to vote since before I could vote myself. From being the son of a City Councilman and the grandson of a Freedom Rider from the Civil Rights Movement, I was raised seeing people from all walks of life who needed better representation. In college that was cemented after joining the NAACP to fight the injustices that were happening in Ferguson, MO, when I discovered the problem of news deserts 1st hand.
After Ferguson, I split my senior year researching the problem and working with the Founder/CEO of a blockchain company to understand how to implement Vngle’s technology. This work earned me a full-ride to Columbia University to receive my MS in Strategic Communication. During grad school, as a Human-Centered Design Fellow, I launched a 21 city concept study to become an expert in grassroots reporting (vngle.com/wwan/). After that, I earned another scholarship to learn Software Engineering at Flatiron School to lead Vngle’s development.
Since going full-time in 2020, I've built a great team, landed the support of many accelerators, built an exclusive partnership with a National Science Foundation sponsored blockchain project, and built ties with local and state governments in Georgia to partner in bringing Vngle’s grassroots coverage to underrepresented districts. This work earned me a Congressional Recognition Award from my late Congressman John Lewis and led to my selection as a Harvard Franklin Fellow for Social Impact x Tech.

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What is your approach to building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership team?

I mold my team around 2 main principles to grow as holistic civic citizens:

Being a Champion of Service.

Having a bonafide passion for the work of developing more informed communities is the bedrock of team building at Vngle. We seek to be all-star public servants. We have a cultural notion that we’re seeking to win the “championship of service”. To do so, we look for impactful performers with strong initiative who are extraordinarily compassionate and move with urgency. 

Having Radically Open-minded Respect.

To properly bring attention to the needs of diverse communities, I challenge my team to leave their biases behind. Our culture is all about working together to understand our fellow human beings better, by never assuming we know their experiences or what’s best for them. This idea permeates through our team dynamics, allowing us to have immense respect for the perspectives of our team members and the communities we serve. Because of this, we have created a non-hierarchical culture that has enabled a community of industry veterans and students to work together to build new solutions and overcome obstacles through a collective cross-generational knowledge base. 

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Your Business Model & Partnerships

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)
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Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to Solve?

I'm applying because I see this as the ultimate opportunity to gain the comprehensive support my team needs to prepare for national scale. Being involved with the MIT community will fully transform our organization to help us refine our city-by-city growth strategy and fill in our areas of lack. The funding will also be extremely helpful given we are still early in our monetization journey. However, more than anything I want to join a class of amazing global social entrepreneurs and gain a support group of peers solving the world's biggest challenges. Though Vngle's focus right now is bringing verifiable grassroots coverage to the United States, we do have eventual international ambitions to support other countries striving to address community news deserts. This opportunity would help give me access to the network I need to jumpstart that process. 

Gaining access to mentorship and coaching from across MIT, especially from the Media Lab, would give me all the support I need as a founder to fully realize my vision for the world's first fully verifiable blockchain-based grassroots news network. One thing I truly need help with is creating better systems to evaluate our growth and make our impact transparent to funders, government officials, and of course the communities we serve. Plus, the national stage that comes with this opportunity would help solidify Vngle's presence as we pursue our goal of bringing nonpartisan coverage to America's battleground states to help combat misinformation and underrepresentation before the 2024 Presidential election.

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)
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Please explain in more detail here.

If we are going to pull off scaling grassroots coverage across America, we will need top talent and a powerful community of supporters to achieve it. That's why we need help with Human Capital. 

We need financial support all around when it comes to fundraising and especially when it comes to accounting. I've handled all our finances up to this point, and we need help making our practices more efficient and seamless.

We must do better with monitoring our metrics and measuring our growth / impact. We have a basic data operation, and it must evolve if we are to take things to a new level. For us, design matters because our platform has the potential to disrupt/impact communities worldwide so it’s crucial that we do all we can to make our platform and model ethical and accessible for all. Through having a robust monitoring and evaluation pipeline that's going to ensure we achieve that.

Lastly, we need the brightest engineering minds to pull off this operation. We need talent to expand our product across platforms (e.g. mobile) so our reporters can easily capture and submit content, while viewers can find our stories across any medium. Also, we want to look into integrating A.I. to help editors accelerate the cross-referencing and fact-checking process. We eventually will explore AR & VR to bring new dimensions to our reporting. Through VR reporting, we could literally help people see BIPOC and other underrepresented communities literally from the perspectives of the locals that live there.

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What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

We would love to partner with faculty at the MIT Media Lab to explore interdisciplinary ways we can leverage new technology to transform the experience of local news reporting through immersive storytelling and blockchain verification. We have been giving much thought to operating Vngle as a DAO and operating our reporting/editorial operations off smart contracts. I would definitely want to partner with faculty who are experts in smart contacts and could help us implement these ideas.
Also, we are really interested in partnering with Cortico: The Local Voices Network based in the Media Lab and gaining insights from their AI recording product (Jess Weaver is the main contact person )
The work David Karger is doing at the Haystack Group (Research on Information Access, Analysis, Management, and Distribution) is also very interesting. My teammate Kenneth worked with this group, and he sees their focus on making it easier for people to collect, organize, find, visualize, and share information would be an extraordinary asset to Vngle's R&D.
Lastly, we would like to connect with the Journalism Mapping and Analytics Project (JMAP) and MIT LaunchX.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The ASA Prize for Equitable Education? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The Elevate Prize for Antiracist Technology? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The GM Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

Yes, I wish to apply for this prize

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Explain how you are qualified for this prize. How will your team use The HP Prize for Advancing Digital Equity to advance your solution?

We are qualified because we're advancing digital equity by combatting news deserts and ensuring every community has proper cross-cultural representation.
At Vngle, we're all about inclusion and seeing communities from "various angles". Through training citizens to become local reporters and editors, our operation is predicated on digital literacy. By bringing more equitable grassroots reality news to underrepresented areas, we're driving new local engagement and spurring economic opportunity in underreported areas through covering local businesses, local culture, and local affairs.
We're helping pave the way for local digital equity in underserved communities through local partnerships, collaborations, and direct grassroots engagement with elected officials. We're driving this forward through ensuring citizens have the technology they need (smartphones and computers for reporting/editing), ensuring they have access to the internet (or helping them find connectivity), and creating quality training content for digital literacy (e.g., skills needed to leverage technology in representing their community). Our work brings coverage to people of all walks of life across communities, being fully representative of all genders, races, sexual orientations, and disabilities.
Through our work, we're expanding the local news ecosystem and curating collective conversations around underrepresented pressing topics in cities. By pairing our content coverage with verifiable local dialog we're better engaging, listening, and learning from communities across the United States. In doing so, we're unveiling current and historical root causes behind localized issues and highlighting what resources and support are needed to address them moving forward.

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for the Innovation for Women Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Do you qualify for and would you like to be considered for The AI for Humanity Prize? If you select Yes, explain how you are qualified for the prize in the additional question that appears.

No, I do not wish to be considered for this prize, even if the prize funder is specifically interested in my solution

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Solution Team

 
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