The Brown Institute for Media Innovation announces “Magic Grant” funding opportunity

The deadline for 2021-2022 Magic Grants has passed. For reference, the call for proposals can be seen below.

The Magic Grant Program. The David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation was founded in 2012 and is a joint effort between Stanford’s School of Engineering and Columbia Journalism School. Each year, the Brown Institute awards close to $1M in grants and fellowships to foster new tools and modes of expression, and to create stories that escape the bounds of page and screen. We are committed to radical experimentation with the potential to define new priorities and practices for both engineering and journalism.

The “Magic Grant” program provides year-long funding awards of up to $150,000 ($300,000 for teams with members of both the Columbia and Stanford communities). In addition to funding, grantees have access to a distinguished advisory and mentoring group, and an extensive and inspiring alumni network.

Successful Magic Grant projects have taken various forms — from novel works of journalism, to new software platforms, and even innovations in hardware. The common link among all our grants is that they develop new ways to find and tell stories. They can be platforms that extend our creativity, or powerful new kinds of journalism.

Since its founding, the Brown Institute has funded over 80 projects through its Magic Grant program and a complete list can be found on our website at

To date, the Institute has funded the creation of data sets and new database technologies to support journalism (Documenting COVID-19, Data Share, Democracy Fighters), editing tools that simplify audio and video production (RoughCut, Synthesizing Novel Video from GANS), advances in artificial intelligence and Machine Learning (Learning to Engage, Cable TV News Analyzer), and significant stories exploring new modes of expression through data visualization and immersion (We Can, 1000Cut).

And with these grants we have supported the work of journalists, computer scientists, engineers, artists, designers, and communications and digital humanities scholars. This is just a hint at the variety of projects we support, and we expect similar breadth in the 2021 cohort of Magic Grants.

Evaluation and Requirements. Magic Grant proposals are evaluated on: 1) the originality of the project described; 2) its potential for impact; 3) the strength of the team; and 4) the timeline outlined to complete the work. Each of these areas should be clearly addressed in the proposal.

Depending on the needs of the project, teams can include members from outside our  university networks. Precisely who is eligible to receive funding under a Magic Grant varies by campus; please carefully review our eligibility criteria before applying. The Institute will give special preference to “bicoastal” proposals, those having team members from the research and creative communities in both the Bay Area and New York City.

When safe, Magic Grant recipients are expected to carry out their work in residence at the Brown Institute, either at Columbia or at Stanford, and participate in the Institute’s activities. Attendance to quarterly “All-Hands” review meetings held virtually or in California and New York (when safe) is mandatory. For these meetings, the Brown Institute will cover lodging and travel costs.

Details of the Application Process. A successful Magic Grant application clearly explains a unique story or technological advance, and outlines a one-year (or less) plan for its realization or the creation of a prototype. We seek applications from teams of students, faculty, and alumni, as well as practitioners working in areas relevant to media and technology. 

Magic Grant applications should be submitted via Prompts will be provided for the following questions.

Magic Grant Proposal

  • Project Summary: In one sentence, tell us what you intend to do with your Magic Grant.
  • Project Description: Please provide your project in more detail, highlighting the specific outcomes and deliverables you hope to achieve.
  • Timeline: Provide a timeline for your funding period, detailing specific milestones of your project.
  • Innovation/Originality: Are there projects similar to the one you are proposing? How does yours compare or take a fresh approach?
  • Success/Impact: During your funding period, members of the Brown Institute will check on your progress and help you identify any resources you might need to complete your project and achieve your planned outcomes. To be most effective we ask each Magic Grant team to propose one or more measures that will characterize success for your project, measures that get to the heart of its impacts, and can be referenced during the funding period to assess your progress. Please list not more than three measures for your project.
  • Entrepreneurship: The Brown Institute is especially interested in supporting projects that can have extended impact beyond the year of the grant as commercial or non-profit entrepreneurial ventures that allow the public to benefit from the work. Describe the entrepreneurial venture your project might lead to and the kind of extended impact such a venture would enable. (Not Required)
  • Diversity: The Brown Institute’s mission calls for the broadening of opportunities and expanding participation of groups and institutions that are underrepresented in Engineering and Journalism, which is essential to the health and vitality of these disciplines. The Brown Institute is committed to this principle of diversity and deems it central to the programs, projects, and activities it considers and supports. Please tell us about how your team and your project represent and encourage these values


  • Team Members: Name/Email/Role on Project
  • Resume: Résumé/CV of each team member
  • Transcripts: Most recent transcript(s) of each individual on the team. Transcript requirements vary by campus — please consult our FAQ page for more information.
  • Faculty Involvement (for Stanford): Name and description of how faculty will be involved in supporting the project.

Additional Documents

  • Optional Support Material: You may submit a PDF document of up to 1 page in length to accompany your proposal. You may use this document to provide illustrations, images and photographs to accompany your proposal.
  • Letters of Support: Two letters of support that assess the importance of the project and its chances of success (for Columbia applicants).
  • Budget: A budget for 12 months not exceeding a total of $150,000. The budget can include financial support of the team members (e.g. tuition remission and salary in accordance with University guidelines); cost for specialized hardware, software, and materials; travel, services; etc. and should follow the rules of the respective university. Each line item must be justified. Columbia applicants must use the budget template provided here. Stanford applicants should use the budget template provided here. Budgets will be evaluated on the scale and scope of the project and team personnel. When awarding Magic Grants, the Brown Institute may adjust budgets according to review committee recommendations and available funds.


  • Proposal submission deadline: May 1, 2021
  • Announcement of finalists: May 14, 2021
  • Presentation/Q&A by Columbia finalists (virtual): May 24, 2021
  • Presentation/Q&A by Stanford finalists (virtual): May 25, 2021
  • Announcement of winners: June 1, 2021
  • Projects start: September 2021 (July/August by special arrangement)

Selection of Winners. Judging will take place in a two-step process. First, based on the reviews of the written applications, a small number of teams will be selected as finalists at each university. Finalists will then be invited to submit a 5-minute presentation video for review. Following video review, Finalists will participate in a virtual Q&A session. We encourage any supporting faculty or outside advisors to join us for the Q&A, though their attendance is not mandatory. Finalist presentations will be organized both at Columbia and Stanford, each with its own jury. Bicoastal teams should be prepared to present at both events — Stanford team members presenting at Stanford, and Columbia team members presenting at Columbia.