Lucas Sommer, 24, thought he was just going to a networking event to get a little advice on how to launch his business idea. But 17 hours later, he was presented with an oversized check for $25,000 to get his music-community website off the ground.
There were only supposed to be seven finalists at the We Media PitchIt! Contest on Thursday morning at the University of Miami. But the night before, conference staff were so wowed by his idea at a poolside networking event, that they insisted Sommer be a last-minute addition to the contest -- giving the Miami resident and UM graduate only a few hours to prepare.
His website, Audimated.com, is a community of musicians and fans to share, discover, and make money from independent artists.
"This was an opportunity for We Media to help shape the future of music,'' said Brian Reich, one of the judges. We Media is an annual conference that revolves around innovation and entrepreneurship in the media industry.
Also winning $25,000 was journalist-turned-entrepreneur Melinda Wittstock for her presentation on AssignIt, a mobile application that would use volunteers around the community to help with hyper-local investigative journalism.
Running on a diet of Red Bull and no sleep, since he had to prepare contest materials overnight, Sommer explained his website, which aims to help starving artists. Independent artists get money for the music, tickets, and merchandise they sell. Fans also get paid a commission for promoting artists. He said the company would keep 10 percent of the profits and operate at a low cost. He criticized Apple's iTunes for not being friendly to independent artists, because it keeps 30 percent of every sale.
"Audimated and I will change and save the independent music industry," Sommer said, which he reported was a $3.4 billion market, not including merchandise.
On the journalism side, AssignIt hopes to help news organizations that can't afford to pay for journalists to spend time on detailed investigative work. Using a mobile application, users can tell journalists about breaking news or issues that they want covered, and journalists can ask the community to volunteer with specific assignments -- such as taking photos of a certain event. Journalists would put the community's work through a vetting process.
"It's not just the [job] cuts, but we're not doing stories that are relevant to people's daily lives. This is the next logical step,'' Wittstock said. ``The user and the professional journalist should be collaborating.''
The Washington D.C.-based entrepreneur has already started a similar business called the Capitol News Connection, where journalists get questions that citizens submit online to be asked of politicians. The service works with several media outlets, including WLRN 91.3-FM.
"Users want their news portable, personalized, participatory," Wittstock said. "It's a new way forward for investigative journalism that is sustainable."