Reboot Democracy: The Evolution of Democracy Tech
On March 28th, Reboot Democracy brought innovators and experts together to learn from one another over food and drink in the New York offices of startup accelerator and venture capital firm, Matter.vc.
The theme of the event was The Evolution of Democracy Tech. Reboot Democracy’s Managing Director, Emily Baum, welcomed the diverse crowd and gave an overview of Reboot Democracy’s mission and recent events. She described the organization’s work supporting innovators who are using technology to strengthen democracy, from citizen engagement to voting logistics, information spread, and tools that support running for office.
The evening then moved into the project showcase, a series of 5-minute pitches from the founders of innovative projects at the intersection of democracy and technology.
Justin Zhen presented Micgoat, a new video-app for debate which his team developed to encourage bipartisan online dialogue on the topics of the day. Frustrated by the echo-chamber effect of social networks, Micgoat brings people together from across the country for spirited discussion and debate. Thousands of people, and even some elected officials, have logged on to discuss the pros and cons of contemporary issues such as gun control, free speech, universal basic income, and DACA.
Next, Noah Greenberg of Stacker talked about how his startup is building engaging, data-driven content at scale. According to Greenberg, data can be expensive for journalists and publishers to access, and can often result in dense, inaccessible content. Stacker enables non-technical journalists to easily perform rigorous analyses using a variety of public and private data sources, and automates the production of visually compelling editorial content that entertains and informs.
Mike Phillips, a former Democratic Party research analyst for the 2016 Clinton campaign, presented Vigilant, which aggregates and cleanly structures thousands of public databases to avoid risk, drive insight, and unlock opportunity. Phillips pointed out that many public data sources such as court records, business filings, and lobbying records are not designed with APIs. Vigilant provides companies, campaigns, and organizations that are changing the world the solutions they need to access and understand this public data.
Akbar Dawood and Tommy Mitchell of Grafiti are working on a product that empowers users to access data from a variety of sources and quickly create shareable, visual stories from their insights, all with crisp, mobile-friendly design. Grafiti is being advised by the Associated Press and is committed to working with trusted, verifiable sources of data content.
Blastchat’s CEO Jhamar Youngblood asked the question “Why wouldn’t every politician want to Blastchat to communicate?” Jhamar made a strong argument for the ease and utility of the messaging platform — a fast, simple way to instantly communicate with people who subscribe to what they care about. From influencers to food trucks and even politicians from the City of Newark, Jhamar presented a variety of use cases for his new venture. It was a blast.
A lively discussion followed, led by Baum, with Josh Lucido, Director of Investments (NYC) at Matter.vc, and Rapi Castillo, cofounder of Progressive Hacknight. Lucido introduced Matter, which supports media entrepreneurs building a more informed, connected, and empowered society through their start-up accelerator and seed stage fund.
The first question for the evening was about the shift that the panelists are seeing between 2016 and 2017 in technology projects and startups — both in terms of the trends they are seeing, and the gaps of what they are not seeing.
Lucido noted that he sees a lot more fake news solutions than before but is pessimistic about the potential for an effective solution. He has seen growth in the “technology to combat technology” space — whether that’s improving health or growing community connections. He sees gaps in the data privacy and security space.
Castillo described feeling helpless after the 2016 elections, and founded Progressive Hacknight to create a community for technologists to come together. Progressive Hacknight hosts bi-weekly gatherings of coders and creatives and provides a space for them to use their talents to push forward change for the common good. Progressive Hacknight was able to leverage open source tools to help organizers of the Women’s March and the March for Our Lives coordinate transportation and logistics for millions of people. In general, he’s seen that political movements are trying to use technology to connect with people in novel ways and create a space where leaders can emerge.
Reboot Democracy is already planning its next event and would love to involve you in the process as they continue bringing the democracy tech community together. If you are working on something you would like to present, or know of an expert we should invite to the next event, please let Reboot Democracy know! Thanks to Rick Gell for his help on this event write-up. To see more images from the evening, we invite you to check out the album of additional photos.
And finally, a big thank you to Matter.vc for being a fantastic partner on this event.
Reboot Democracy is building an ecosystem of support for early stage startups that are leveraging technology to strengthen democracy. We hold events and work to help innovators sort through the noise, collaborate, and move the best new ideas forward.
Reboot Democracy is a fiscally sponsored project of Harmony Labs and your tax deductible donations are what allow us to operate. Please consider making a donation here.