Bridging the gaps: How Knight helps meet information needs by investing in startups like CrowdTangle – Knight Foundation

Bridging the gaps: How Knight helps meet information needs by investing in startups like CrowdTangle

On Friday, CrowdTangle, a social analytics company that Knight Foundation invested in via the Knight Enterprise Fund, announced its acquisition by Facebook. This is a momentous occasion for the CrowdTangle team (Congrats!), for investors such as Knight, and for Facebook. It’s also a chance to reflect on a company that created impact for journalists and audiences, underscoring why Knight made the investment in the first place.

The Knight Enterprise Fund looks to advance the information needs of both people and publishers by investing in startups that are addressing information gaps and connecting them to Knight’s media and community network.

We invested in CrowdTangle in 2013, on the theory that as social media consumption grew publishers needed better tools to source material from—and distribute material to—social media, particularly Facebook. CrowdTangle built a tool to allow publishers to do just that, and Knight helped connect them with each other in the early days at conferences such as NewsGeist and SXSW Interactive; they became the go-to tool for hundreds of media clients, including BuzzFeed, NPR, Mic, The New York Times and Tegna.

Given the role social media, particularly Facebook, is playing in both cultural and social movements around the world, journalists’ ability to analyze the platform is key to telling an accurate story. Publishers used CrowdTangle to source and distribute material, including uncovering stories on Brexit, American political campaigns and fake news distribution that were really only possible via a close analysis of social media.

Importantly, CrowdTangle is partially integrated into Facebook’s Signal product, which enables journalists to continue to surface trending topics.

CrowdTangle is the second Knight Enterprise Fund company to be acquired by Facebook; the first was Endaga late last year. Other companies we hold stakes in include Mic, Gimlet Media and Newsela. We try to spotlight our portfolio companies at journalism and technology events, and connect them with potential partners in our network.

It’s unusual for a foundation to use part of its endowment for a venture-capital fund, but it fits our mission. Our twin goals with the Knight Enterprise Fund are to generate returns we can use for the foundation’s charitable purposes, and to directly drive impact, by enriching the ability of journalists to keep people abreast of what is happening in the world. The success of CrowdTangle is an early validation of that approach.

Ben Wirz is director of venture investments at Knight Foundation. Email him via [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @bthewirz.