With 2018 midterms around the corner, the Democrats are looking for their answer to Cambridge Analytica, the Robert Mercer-backed political data firm that either won the 2016 election or tricked everyone into believing that it did, depending on who’s talking.
To that end, a prominent left-leaning accelerator is out with a new graduating class, just in time to gear up for November. Higher Ground Labs seeks to “supercharge” political startups with progressive causes at heart. The incubator and accelerator’s main cause is notching Democratic wins, from local to federal elections.
The group just announced a class of 13 politics-minded companies offering “innovative solutions” to get Democrats elected. The 13 new companies join 10 companies from Higher Ground’s 2017 class. The chosen startups will each receive around $100,000 each in seed funding, an invitation to Higher Ground’s accelerator bootcamp and proximity to the group’s star-studded advisory board, which boasts a former COO of the Obama Foundation, a former Clinton campaign CTO and current Strava chief product officer, a former FCC chairman, the guys at Crooked Media and the chief technology officer of the DNC, among many other high-profile names. The political accelerator’s investor list features notable names like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Silicon Valley super angel investor Ron Conway.
“Last year, Higher Ground Labs invested in companies and entrepreneurs that provided game-changing technologies in Virginia’s state elections and the Alabama Senate race,” said Ron Klain, chair of the Higher Ground board and former White House aide. “Now, we are more than doubling the size of our portfolio, and will be backing two dozen companies that aim to have a major impact on the 2018 election, up and down the ballot.”
The 2018 class startups include:
5 Calls, an affordable phone-banking platform for everything from school board elections to federal campaigns.
Avalanche, a cognitive science-driven communications company.
CallTime, which aggregates data into comprehensive donor profiles using AI to optimize donor outreach.
Change Research, quick, accurate public opinion polling that cuts costs by as much as 90 percent.
Civic Eagle, a SaaS platform for policy advocacy campaigns.
Factba.se, a “transparency engine” that collects “every word spoken” by a political opponent to allow for discrepancies and shifts to be identified quickly.
GiveMini, a micro-donation tool that lets donors round up to the nearest dollar.
GrowProgress, a tool that predicts audience personality for message targeting.
Humanize, “a platform that democratizes the tools of advertising” to give regular people access to ad strategies that would normally be price prohibitive.
New Mode, engagement tools that highlight supporters’ stories.
Same Side, a platform to activate supporters who are “already doing cool things” in music, art and culture.
Swayable, a data science platform that enables rapid-response digital campaigns and examines “which kinds of people respond to which content.”
Voter Protection Partners, a group that works with campaigns to “manage voter protection teams and track, analyze, and respond to voting incidents and election administration problems.”
Projects like Higher Ground are fueling the kind of political technology operations that Democrats hope can translate into wins in 2018 and beyond. While national post-mortems on the 2016 election remain obsessed with the right’s deep pocketed big data mythos, plenty of folks in tech’s left-leaning epicenters believe that Democrats can do better with the right tools.