Poli-tech investors are pouring money into startups as the left tries to capitalize on a wave of anti-Trump energy and regain its digital edge.
Several organizations are now offering everything from seed funding to business coaching for entrepreneurs who want to build tools to help Democrats campaign against the Trump administration and GOP-controlled congress.
Daily Action, which launched with the help of Creative Majority PAC and Revolution Messaging, is just one example. The calling platform recently received a $50,000 investment from New Media Ventures, which will help it expand its operation, according to John Burton, Daily Action’s political director.
“It’s a lot more than that first check,” Burton told C&E. In addition to funding, Burton noted his group was now connected with all the other founders of firms who each received a share of NMV’s $1-million fund.
Burton said those connections have helped his shop learn about everything from human capital management to taxes and accounting best practices. “As we transition from a project to an organization, there’s a lot that’s happening in addition to the funding.”
Higher Ground Labs, which recently distributed $1.5 million to 10 startups, has a similar money-and-coaching model. In addition to investing in the firms it backs, the companies’ founders will gather for 3-5-day monthly powwows in Chicago, DC, Virginia and San Francisco over the next five months. They also get access to the Rolodex and business acument of HGL’s advisory board.
“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,” Ron Klain, who chairs HGL’s advisory board, stated recently.
Now, it’s not the funding on the left that has GOP poli-tech entrepreneurs envious. They note that the frenetic startup energy mirrors what happened on the right after the 2012 cycle when GOP technologists were determined to give their side the tools to compete.
“There’s always a risk of taking your foot off the gas pedal, but when you win elections, there’s not this sense that we have to blow it up and start from scratch,” said Matt Oczkowski, a co-founder of the recently launched Campaign Inbox.
While money isn’t an issue, Oczkowski said he did have another concern. He noted there’s not an equivalent talent incubator for entrepreneurs and technologists of his party.
“One of the biggest problems we have as a party is recruiting talent with the technical chops – whether it be data scientists, engineers,” he said.
Oczkowski pointed to Peter Thiel and James Damore, who was recently fired from Google, before adding: “There are clearly pockets of right-of-center individuals who work at the tech centers. It’s just very difficult to recruit [them]."
Meanwhile, Aaron Ginn, a GOP technologist and co-founder of Lincoln Network, said that a part of the problem facing poli-tech startups on the right is that donors and investors who could double as business coaches doesn’t see campaigns as an attractive industry.
“Donors and investors on the right don't really see ‘double bottom line’ businesses as viable,” said Ginn. “They would rather just make money and donate later. There are a few outliers to this generalization.”
Whereas on the left, he said, “most of the funders are using it as a vehicle for their political involvement and moving the Democrats towards their beliefs.”
Still, Ginn is working to elevate his side’s incubator infrastructure. Lincoln Labs hosted a webinar on Wednesday on “Silicon Valley product development tactics for civic causes and campaigns.”