A group of former Barack Obama staffers is trying to apply venture-capital tactics to progressive politics by investing $1.5 million in 10 early-stage tech startups.
Higher Ground Labs, a tech incubator and accelerator that debuted in May, has invested in 10 companies that it says “will begin supercharging progressive campaign technology.” Each company is developing innovative tools to help Democrats win elections.
Betsy Hoover, a co-founder of Higher Ground, worked on both Obama presidential campaigns in online and field organizing.
“We haven’t built a culture around investors who invest in political tech in a real way. So people have had a hard time getting off the ground,” Hoover said in a Wired report.
Other Higher Ground founders include former Obama-administration staffers Shomik Dutta and Andrew McLaughlin.
“For too long, progressives have counted on Presidential campaigns to incubate and build campaign technology — a strategy that isn’t optimal when conservatives like the Koch brothers and the Mercers are pumping big money into permanent GOP campaign technology companies,” said Ron Klain, a former top White House aide and chairman of Higher Ground Labs advisory board. “We need to close this ‘progressive tech gap.’ … Higher Ground Labs is giving these 10 promising young companies a jumpstart to have impact in 2018 and beyond.”
Most political technology must rely on presidential campaigns and mid-term elections to stay financially viable, Wired reported:
“In many ways, what’s happening on the left today mirrors what happened on the right in 2012. Daniel Kreiss, a professor at the University of North Carolina and author of the book ‘Prototype Politics,’ says Republicans realized after Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney that they were at a technological disadvantage. ‘Romney lost an election that people on the right believed he should have won,’ says Kreiss, who is tabulating how many new organizations have grown out of the 2016 election.
Perhaps the most powerful Republican startup to come from the post-2012 era is Cambridge Analytica, which ran the data operation for President Trump’s campaign. Cambridge was unusual because it was backed by billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, giving it the resources to sustain itself between presidential campaigns.
‘One of the things the right has seemingly done well is understand they could bankroll these larger ventures to insulate them during those off years,’ Kreiss says.
The 10 Higher Ground startups were chosen from 150 applications. They include new tools for using influencers on social media, a platform to manage grassroots outreach, new survey and analytics tools, and best-in-class resources for down-ballot candidates.
They were chosen because of the problems they are solving and the teams driving their development, Higher Ground said in a press release. Beyond the initial influx of capital investment, the startups will participate in a five-month bootcamp to accelerate product development and expose them to potential clients. They’ll participate in product and business development at programs in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Virginia and San Francisco with access to an advisory board of campaign experts, tech gurus, entrepreneurs and investors.
“These companies represent the new frontier in political campaign technology and we’re going to be their partners,” Hoover said in a prepared statement.
Could these 10 political tech startups help Democrats win in 2018?
Hustle is a technology platform that enables personalized, human connections to take place at-scale. Hustle affords organizers, activists, volunteers, and sales agents to manage thousands of personal conversations at a time, but with a personal 1:1 touch.
Campaigns and causes have already been using Hustle with tremendous results. Higher Ground Labs has made a strategic investment in Hustle’s Series A to support and further disseminate an important product that is solving a critical need in the progressive political-technology ecosystem.
Field Day is a venture-backed start-up in Los Angeles that aggregates and synthesizes billions of localized data-points across the U.S. to help brands refine and activate hyper-local marketing initiatives. Field Day is simultaneously building a network of curated, experienced on-demand “brand ambassadors” to provide on-the-ground support alongside their online local data insights.
Hope is a new media brand and intelligent communications platform that serves as a savvy, funny friend who helps you understand politics and take strategic action. By coming to life where users are already having conversations—SMS, Messenger, Kik, and native mobile apps—Hope uses conversation-style stories to inform, activate, and motivate the new generation of activists who want to get engaged in making change but don’t yet know how. Hope is part of Purpose, a public benefit corporation that builds and supports movements to advance the fight for an open, just, and habitable world.
Tuesday Strategies is a civic technology company focused on political engagement for the digital age. It creates a “digital door-knock” with new field-tested software that allows campaigns to turn online supporters into digital volunteers by analyzing their social media influence and suggesting peer-to-peer conversations that help register, persuade, and turn out voters based on direct voter file integration.
Victory Guide is a digital campaign manager that provides candidates the tools and guidance they need to win with customized direction and advice. Each day, candidates receive an agenda of actions tailored to the state of their campaign. As the campaign inputs new data about voter interactions and fundraising, Victory Guide adjusts the agenda accordingly. Victory Guide automates time-consuming activities, like “cutting turf,” organizing voter information, and managing volunteers.
Mobilize America is built to help elect Democrats to state government. To achieve new levels of volunteer engagement, Mobilize America combines a robust two-sided marketplace to connect volunteers and campaigns, with a scaled digital grassroots organizing program. The model is being developed in Virginia’s 2017 house elections, and will deploy for competitive states nationwide in 2018.
BallotReady provides data and tools to power down-ballot civic engagement, powered by the most comprehensive and complete dataset to every level of government. It uses a powerful, customized voter-turnout tools for campaigns, advocacy groups, and nonprofits to inform voters about their entire ballot and get out the vote, every election.
GroundGame is an opinionated technology platform for campaigns and causes to organize their voters, volunteers, and donors. The core platform is a voter, volunteer, and donor CRM, armed with organizing tools (1-to-1 SMS and email, tools for door knocking and calls, etc) and an API that connects to other platforms. GroundGame empowers campaigns of any size, from the smallest to the largest.
Qriously has reimagined polling through the use of programmatic survey methodology and has achieved far more representative and accurate samples than traditional polling. Qriously’s deep understanding of voter sentiment and powerful predictive capabilities enable campaign strategists to plan intelligently, invest proactively in crucial electorates, and prevent election day surprises. Qriously has served marketing, investment, and corporate strategy clients since 2010, but in 2016 moved into politics and successfully predicted Brexit, Trump’s success in the Rust Belt, the Netherlands election outcomes and the recent referendum in Italy.
VoterCircle is a powerful and easy-to-use, friend-to-friend outreach platform that enables supporters to leverage their personal relationships to benefit a campaign or organization. With just a couple clicks, 100s of campaign supporters are able to personally reach 1,000s of their friends from the comfort of their home on their own schedule. VoterCircle can be used at every stage of a campaign to increase name ID, grow an email list, recruit volunteers, identify grassroots donors as well as ID, persuade and GOTV voters.
Read more at Higher Ground Labs.
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