Efforts to grow the startup ecosystem on the right are beginning to pay dividends but practitioners say a cultural shift is necessary before it can match the left’s robust infrastructure.
With the first vote of the midterm cycle less than two weeks away, the left boasts several incubators actively courting startups including Higher Ground Labs, which has invested in more than 45 companies, several of which have gone on to be acquired including Mobilize, Hustle, and OutreachCircle. For 2022, HGL is looking to invest in companies focused on “content creation, voter contact and data sharing.”
“We are also seeking technologies that harness the power of Web3 to improve progressive organizing,” HGL’s 2022 investment thesis states.
Garrett Johnson, co-founder of Lincoln Network, told C&E he isn’t worried that the right is being out invested in political startups or even technical staffing, despite the left’s inherent advantages in the space.
“There’s an effort to grow this ecosystem. No doubt about it, it’s been slower uptake on the right than it has on the left,” he said in a recent interview. “One reason is you have a lot of VCs who understand building web 2.0, web 3.0 technologies, investing in teams and building teams and building scalable products who ideologically lean left. So they see building technologies to solve policy problems as a viable solution where money on the right is just catching up to that.”
Lincoln Network, which has evolved into a content production effort and event organizer, bridges the worlds of policy, technology and conservative politics. From his perch as chairman, Johnson is eyeing several efforts underway to help the right catch up in areas like funding and growing startups. In fact, Johnson pointed to companies like payment processor WinRed and Locals, which was acquired by Rumble last year, as success stories of conservative tech startups.
“I’m aware of many efforts underway to try to [help the right catch up]. Some have some velocity behind them, others are just getting off the ground, others have been fledgeling at best, but I think definitely in the past few years there’s been more of an effort to get something off the ground,” he said.
Eric Wilson, managing partner of Startup Caucus, an incubator of technology startups on the right, said it’s not appropriate for his side to benchmark its success against what the left is doing.
“Republican campaigns and voters are different than Democratic campaigns and voters,”
he said. “You’ve got different user bases.”
Startup Caucus has six companies in its portfolio, which have been active in 25 states and used by more than 170 campaigns, PACs, and groups, according to Wilson. At the same time, the incubator has six entrepreneurs in residence. “It hasn’t grown as fast or as big, the whole ecosystem, as I would like, but it grows at that rate until one day it just shoots up,” he said.
The biggest obstacles to growing the startup ecosystem on the right, he added, are culture and budget prioritization. Campaigns and funders need to get “past the mentality of pouring money into short-term gains,” said Wilson.
In other words, it’s about funding startups with money that may instead go into TV or digital advertising over the course of a cycle.
“That’s counter intuitive,” Wilson admits. “But the challenge is not money. It’s not technology. It’s adapting the culture to invest in long-term thinking and identifying new opportunities.”