Higher Ground Labs started as an experiment. Progressive politics was not innovating quickly enough to keep pace with broader technological change and shifts in American attention. Presidential campaigns historically served as the only hubs for innovation, and their episodic reality prevented new technologies from having lasting impacts. If progressives were to realize an enduring electoral majority, it had to be built on the backs of campaigns and causes armed with world-class modern technology tools.
In 2017 and 2018, we raised $5.0 million and seeded 27 start-ups against this theory. We wedded private-capital to talented founders and provided programming, mentorship, business introductions, and other support as they tackled large, unsolved challenges. If our startups succeeded, progressive campaigns and causes could benefit enormously while remaining largely inoculated from their failures.
Our model was strongly validated by the midterm elections. Every federal campaign used at least one of our start-ups, as did over 3,000 down-ballot campaigns. Our early, quiet investments into companies like Mobilize America, Change Research, BallotReady, Swayable, Tuesday Company, and Avalanche began to pay off with campaigns, causes, and even other investors.
Unlike technologies born and buried on individual campaigns, our start-ups are now learning from this past cycle to strengthen and prepare for the defining election of our lifetime. We will rise to meet the moment with them. Higher Ground Labs will soon close a $10.0 million fund for the next two years and will assume lead-investment roles for our strongest existing companies. Our follow-on investments will range from $500,000 to $2,000,000 and will run in parallel to ongoing programming support we provide. We intend to deploy over $6.0 million in follow-on funding in 2019 and 2020.
HGL will also continue to accelerate promising earlier-stage start-ups that solve challenges identified in our 2019 investment thesis. Our latest accelerator class will receive over $1.4 million in funding and will feature 11 startups and 2 fellows that collectively address misinformation and false-media, strengthen data analytics, integrate and measure performance, proliferate creative content, and much more. In addition, we are assuming a lead-investment role for our strongest existing companies.
What started as an experiment is here to stay. Higher Ground Labs wants to be an enduring engine in driving new technology to the political market. Because innovation is a process, not a destination.
Higher Ground Labs’ third investment cohort includes:
Countable is a web-action platform that helps users engage with the campaigns, causes, and media platforms they follow. The platform activates any audience by leveraging industry-leading products, generating custom content, and building programmatic re-engagement into a movement. Countable enables campaigns, advocacy movements, news outlets, and corporates brands to better understand the sentiments of their followers.
Main Street One, a fake-news and misinformation fighting technology that tracks narratives as they emerge and provides campaigns and causes with a distributed creative army to respond with force, helps progressive candidates and causes win the information war online. Its intelligence system allows it to play offense by identifying and advancing opportunities to shift public opinion at scale and speed. Its detection and disclosing mechanisms allow it to play defense through understanding the impact of digital manipulation and misinformation.
OpenField is a canvassing application for more complex conversations that can push richer qualitative context back into a central repository of voter-insights. Its software, which supports the practice of deep canvassing, is systematizing how field organizers and canvassers make meaning from their data. Through empowering canvassers to knock doors without a list and have more natural conversations, OpenField promises to change the ways that progressives strategize for campaigns and advocacy movements.
Outfox AI is an intuitive, low-cost Facebook ad-buying platform for down-ballot progressive campaigns and causes. With tools ranging from fundraising optimization, to outreach analytics for automation of online advertising, to a design suite that enables the creation of unique content, Outfox AI promises political organizations that smarter use of their data will power substantive engagement in their causes.
Outvote is a P2P engagement platform that empowers voters to leverage their personal networks into supporter networks. The mobile app facilitates donations, texts, media sharing, and list building. Whether it’s amplifying the national discussion on important issues, mobilizing for policy fights, or getting qualified candidates elected, Outvote empowers progressives to create change both on and offline.
Predictwise is a powerful data, analytics, research, and survey platform that can generate customized, granularized insights on any voter in any district in the country. It is built on bleeding-edge research into market design, survey design, online and social media, administrative data, and other fundamental or behavioral data-sets related to measuring public opinion and political outcomes.
SpeakEasy Political is a self-serve Democratic ad platform (with a managed service component) built to template professionally designed campaign creative, and integrate voter targeting, in order to make top of the ticket political ads more affordable to Democratic campaigns and progressive organizations.
Survey 160 is a software product designed specifically to conduct surveys via text message (SMS) conversation. The technology bridges a gap emerging between telephone interview methods — which are increasing expensive on a cost-per-interview because of declining response rates — and online panel interview methods, which often struggle to reach particular audiences of interest. Such audiences may include small geographies, customer lists, or defined segments of the electorate.”
Torch is the leading real-time intelligence platform for politics and advocacy. It is a social-listening dashboard with customizable feeds and reporting tools to digest content from 1.6 million political organizations and over 50,000 US elected officials.
Warchest is the first software that helps campaigns artfully spend-down to zero by providing innovative forecasting and analytical tools campaigns need to optimize every single dollar and successfully cross the finish line on Election Day. In the 2018 cycle, Warchest helped over 500 staffers manage over half a billion dollars including the DCCC, which relied on Warchest for their red-to-blue races and frontline members.
Wethos curates and manages diverse teams of freelance specialists for leading mission-driven and nonprofit organizations nationwide. With up to 12 different flexible roles, their teams dynamically come together to tackle work ranging from awareness campaigns to website building to strategic branding, with an aim to support organizations fighting to solve some of the world’s toughest problems.
2019 Fellowships Recipients: Horace Williams, Rebecca Blais