The 2018-19 Magic Grant Call for Proposals is closed. Thank you for your interest in consideration in the program.

For reference, the 2018-19 CfP can be seen below.

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

Deadline: April 9, 2018

Are you passionate about the role that emerging technologies can play in the future of media? Do you have a story that can only be told using technology outside the scope of traditional media? A Brown Institute Magic Grant might be for you.

Established in 2012 as a collaboration between Columbia University’s Journalism School and Stanford’s School of Engineering, Brown Institute Magic Grants seed innovation in the changing media landscape.

Magic Grants provide 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, an extensive and inspiring alumni network.

We are looking for hardware, software, and story proposals. We are interested in projects that advance storytelling and journalism through new applications of technology. We also are interested in new tools and technologies that extend media broadly.

Since its founding six years ago, the Brown Institute has funded over 140 people across over 40 projects. Example include…

An open repository for data on the Panamanian government. A hotspot detector for social media feeds, highlighting important stories in a city. A tool to auto-generate rough cuts for documentary videos. A 360-video documentary on the famine in South Sudan. An augmented reality application for enhancing tours though art museums. Experiments with natural and gestural (i.e., not a joystick) interfaces to drones. A platform for helping science journalists better contextualize new research reports. The list goes on.

A successful proposal clearly explains a unique story or technological application and outlines a one-year (at most) plan for its realization or the development of a prototype. Proposals go through a competitive review process. The Institute will give special preference to “bicoastal” proposals, those having team members from each university community. Funded teams are expected to work together at one or both of the Brown Institute locations and participate in Institute events, helping build a multidisciplinary community of researchers and storytellers.

We seek applications from teams of students, faculty, alumni and/or practitioners* working in areas relevant to media and technology (e.g., journalism, communications and the digital humanities, as well as statistics, computer and data science, engineering, design and business). Depending on the needs of the project, teams can also include members from outside the university networks. Eligibility for who can apply varies by campus; please see below for eligibility criteria.

Application Process

Teams must submit an application to be considered for a Magic Grant. Applications will be evaluated on various criteria — the novelty of a platform or the quality of a story, the broader impact of the project, and the strength of the team.

Each team must submit the following documents in PDF format:

(1) COVER LETTER: A signed cover letter, including proposal title and the full name, affiliation, and contact information (postal address, email address, phone) of each team member.

(2) PROPOSAL: A two-page proposal that explains:

  • The innovative idea(s)
  • Originality, uniqueness, and relation to other work in the area
  • Potential for broader impact
  • Work plan to demonstrate viability of the idea(s) within 12 months
  • Expected outcomes, results, prototypes, or media products

(3) LETTERS OF SUPPORT: Two letters of support that assess the importance of the project and its chances of success. At Stanford these should be from faculty members, preferably written by the advisors of the team members, if any. If both team members have the same advisor, one letter suffices. At Columbia, students and alumni can submit letters from their advisor or another faculty member familiar with their work. Letters from non-faculty should identify the recommender’s relationship to the team members. Team members applying on the Columbia side who do not have an affiliation with Columbia should get letters from advisors and/or peers working in the space.

(4) RESUME: The résumé of each team member

(5) TRANSCRIPTS: The transcript of each student on the team

(6) 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. Do not include indirect costs/overhead. Students are urged to consult with their faculty advisor(s) and the university administration. Bicoastal teams must submit separate budgets for Columbia and Stanford, under respective rules, each individually not exceeding $150,000. Columbia applicants should use the budget template provided here. Stanford applicants should use the budget template provided here.

(7) SUBMISSION: Each team should combine their application documents—cover letter, proposal, letters of support, résumés, transcripts, and budget—into a single ZIP file. This should be uploaded  April 9, 2018 (as long as it’s April 9 somewhere on the planet, you can still submit) via:


Stanford University

Teams of two or more graduate students or postdoctoral fellows working in disciplines relevant to media and technology, (e.g., computer science, engineering, data science, statistics, communications, journalism, the digital humanities, design, and business) are encouraged to apply. Teams may also include an exceptionally qualified undergraduate student or a visiting student, as long as the other team members are graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. All grant recipients must be matriculated at Stanford during the 2018-19 academic year. Magic Grants can complement fellowships or similar unrestricted funding from other sources. Students who already have partial funding for the proposed project are also encouraged to apply. Applications may be submitted directly by students, with supporting letters from faculty.

Columbia University

We seek applicants from teams of students, faculty, alumni, or members of New York City’s larger creative and research communities working in areas relevant to media and technology (and specifically journalism, communications, the digital humanities, statistics, computer and data science, engineering, design and business). Magic Grant recipients, however, must spend their time working on their grants at Columbia during the 2018-2019 academic year, assuming they are in the NYC area.

Bicoastal Teams

The Brown Institute is a unique connection between Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford School of Engineering. As such, we are particularly interested in supporting “bicoastal” Magic Grants proposals, those with teams that have at least one member associated with each university meeting the institutional eligibility requirements listed above.

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 give a formal presentation, followed by a Q&A. We encourage any supporting faculty or outside advisors to join us for the presentations and Q&A, though their attendance is not mandatory. Finalist presentations will be organized both at Columbia and Stanford. Bicoastal teams should be prepared to present at both events — Stanford team members presenting at Stanford, and Columbia team members presenting at Columbia. Magic grant winners will be selected after the finalist presentations.


  • Proposal submission deadline: April 9, 2018
  • Announcement of finalists: April 16, 2018
  • Presentation by Columbia finalists (in NY): April 20, 2018
  • Presentation by Stanford finalists (in CA): April 27, 2018
  • Announcement of winners: April 30, 2018
  • Projects start: September 2018 (Summer 2018 by special arrangement)

Benefits and Expectations

Each winning team will receive:

  • Funding of up to $150,000 for the 2018-19 academic year (with up to $300,000 for bicoastal teams)
  • Access to the resources of the Brown Institute, including 24/7 access to the Brown Institute spaces on both campuses.
  • Opportunity to work with the Brown Fellows and other Magic Grant recipients.

We expect that Magic Grant recipients to carry out their work in residence at the Brown Institute, either at Columbia or at Stanford, and participate in the Institute’s activities, including quarterly “All Hands” review meetings in California and New York. To promote cross-fertilization, we expect that Magic Grant recipients will collaborate with others Brown Institute members.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can the team members be from different departments?

A: Yes, of course. Multidisciplinary teams are especially encouraged.

Q: Can a team have only one member?

A: No. We ask that a team of two or more work together on forming and executing the idea.

Q: Can the same team submit more than one proposal?

A: No. We expect that you devote your undivided efforts to the project, if it is funded.

Q: Can a person be part of two different teams who submit two different proposals?

A: No, for the same reason.

Q: What happens if one or both applicants on a winning team already have financial support?

A: This is great, if this support is compatible with carrying out the proposed project. For example, if a student has a fellowship or a research assistantship from his/her advisor to work on the proposed project, we welcome this as a partial offset of cost.

Q: If one or both members of a winning team already have financial support, should this support be included in the budget?

A: No. Cost that is not funded by the Brown Institute should not be included in the budget. It also does not count against the $150,000 maximum budget. However, you should explain in your budget justification that you already have support and this particular item is therefore not included in the budget.

Q: Can Magic Grant recipients apply for a project continuation after the first year?

A: Yes, if there are compelling reasons. Proposed projects should be designed to reach their goals within one year. Follow-on proposals will have to compete with new proposals and go through the same application and review process.