Startup incubator

While there is already a vibrant culture of innovation in progressive tech, we have arguably only scratched the surface; there are still numerous problems to attack. At the same time the ecosystem suffers from a lack of higher-level planning - we do not sufficiently architect solutions that we know will be needed well in advance.

There are numerous patterns in the broader software industry for solving this kind of problem, including industrial research labs, venture studios, and startup incubators. Can we create a startup incubator that would bring structure to the ecosystem, while lowering the bar to entry?

Mikey Dickerson discussed his experience with the New Data Project on Great Battlefield in September 2018. That effort ultimately failed - is it possible to revive it with a different business model? Similar themes of incubation appeared in the following interviews:

Eric Wilson discussed the services provided by Startup Caucus, an incubator for technology for Republican campaigns. Startup Caucus focuses on the following problems that political tech entrepreneurs often face:

  • Helping entrepreneurs reach out to campaigns in the right way and at the right time.
  • Acting as an industry guide - lending domain expertise, e.g., describing the different kinds of committees, figuring out best person to contact for a given sale, using FEC and other spending reports to research the industry.
  • Helping entrepreneurs position their companies, especially to avoid aggressive “pattern matching” by campaign decision makers.
  • Working with political experts on the basics of running a company. Some number of entrepreneurs are longtime politicos who aren’t familiar with the business world and need orientation to the basics. Especially with lean startup methods like using low code tools to build MVPs.
  • Pricing - figuring out how to get pricing of a product right, especially in light of weird campaign spending patterns. Companies should anchor their price point to something familiar in a political context (tv ad, mail piece.) Sometimes it’s useful to structure billing to match with campaign resource timing, e.g. charge more as the campaign nears Election Day.
  • Customer service - appreciating that SaaS businesses sometimes have to offer a great deal of customer service in the political world. Ensuring that companies capture the value of that added service.
  • Networking - every sale in politics is an enterprise sale, but political sales exhibit strong network effects - i.e. one decision maker can influence many others. Startup Caucuslends its network to entrepreneurs it helps.
  • Funding - direct financial investment in startups. This funding also certifies a startup, since Startup Caucus does its own due diligence.
  • Creating the first layer of a capital market - while Startup Caucus focuses on seed funding, it intends for other VCs to follow suit with series A and beyond. The goal is to give entrepreneurs the confidence that political tech can be a long term career path.