It’s six o’clock on a Friday morning in June. No, I’m not blissfully catching up on rest ahead of a homework-filled weekend in Chapel Hill. Instead, I find myself coordinating coffee deliveries, finalizing space setup, and extinguishing every small fire in sight before entrepreneurs arrive. Months of mindful planning are reaching their zenith — Matter Eight Demo Day.
My name is Matt and for the past nine weeks I’ve been a Program Intern at Matter. That means I observed firsthand the grueling efforts Matter Eight entrepreneurs invested to prepare for demo day. Beginning with Design Review 3 the week I joined Matter, and continuing through speaker series, office hours, and feedback sessions, I witnessed the core of Matter’s approach: to be on the cutting edge of design thinking, entrepreneurship, and media.
Before officially starting at Matter, I had only an abstract conception of what it means to be a mission-driven for-profit organization. The notion didn’t quite jive with the world I encountered previously. I currently serve as the President of the Board of Directors for the Daily Tar Heel, one of the oldest and most respected college media organizations in the country. Perhaps because of my experience in a nonprofit organization, my mind associates the words ‘mission-driven’ with nonprofits or poorly performing companies, stumbling to reconcile its mission with its margins. I was a skeptic. Fortunately, nine weeks of learning, doing, observing, and failing convinced me that thriving mission-driven companies like Matter not only exist, they are essential to economic and societal health.
Corey Ford, Matter’s Managing Director, put it best when he said this:
“We believe you can do good and do well. In fact, in this climate, we believe that if you don’t start by doing good, you will not do well.”
My summer also taught me that Matter’s staff actively practices the design thinking principles they preach — and they really do work. We regularly engage in ideation, feedback, empathy, prototyping, failing forward, and everything in between. And although the process didn’t feel natural at first (like I said, I was skeptic), I now can’t imagine work and innovation happening any other way. I believe that human-centered design is the most efficient and reliable way to build products for human use. Otherwise, you’re just throwing dull imaginary darts at a dartboard of faceless imaginary users. You’re designing specifically for yourself. Or worse yet, you’re trying to design for everyone.
Back to that caffeine-fueled June morning. If you were in the room on demo day, you certainly experienced, as I did, what Matter is all about. Matter invests in early stage media startups that are working to build a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Each founder that presented is dedicated to at least one of those goals.
On Demo Day, the first entrepreneur began her pitch directly after Corey’s introduction. Hebah Fisher is the founder and CEO of Kerning Cultures, a podcast dedicated to storytelling in the Middle East. For people living outside of the region, Kerning Cultures aims to upend stereotypes perpetuated by media portrayals of Middle Eastern and North African politics. For Middle Eastern listeners, Kerning Cultures tells stories that people can see themselves in. The stories that Hebah and her team tell inform audiences, construct empathy, and include voices that aren’t represented in traditional Middle Eastern media outlets.
The twelve Matter Eight teams have little in common beyond this: they are building a more informed, empathetic, and inclusive society. Every pitch after Hebah’s shared these themes.
Sadly, my time at Matter is quickly coming to a close this week. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to intern at Matter, an environment that is lively, interesting, and ever changing. Matter has the perfect blend of expertise, entrepreneurial spirit, and whimsy. On my first day I was told to embrace any task, big or small. That’s exactly what happens here each day.
My departure from Matter is bittersweet. It’s bitter in the sense that I no longer get the chance to work alongside the amazing, passionate Matter community every day. But I do get to carry my experiences back to UNC and the Daily Tar Heel for my senior year. In a futile attempt to summarize all that I’ve learned during my time here, I’m left with this: Do good, do well, and always stick to your values.