For the last two decades, progressives have relied on Democratic presidential campaigns to pioneer new campaign technology. The result has been quadrennial waves of national-scale systems hacked together under incredible pressure, often shut down immediately after election day, and generating few tech, data, or analytics products that are effective for lower-level campaigns. Meanwhile, conservatives like the Koch brothers and the Mercer family have been quietly funding GOP campaign tech innovation with massive investment and palpable success, leading to a progressive tech gap.
Today, a set of progressive political, technological, and entrepreneurial leaders have joined forces to launch Higher Ground Labs to address the progressive tech gap. Higher Ground Labs’ aim is to anchor a vibrant ecosystem that can supercharge progressive political startups to advance progressive causes and help Democrats win elections at every level.
Higher Ground Labs unites leading minds in progressive technology, campaigning, and investing around the project of finding, building, and supporting game-changing technology to reach voters and win campaigns. How? Higher Ground Labs will invest capital in early-stage political tech businesses, create fellowships for promising entrepreneurs, and provide resources and coaching for new startups to start meeting campaigns’ unmet needs. The team has already secured its first $1 million in capital commitments.
“As a lifelong campaigner, I’ve spent my career working at the intersection of politics and technology — and it is clear that we could be scaling faster and innovating in smarter ways,” said Betsy Hoover, a Higher Ground Labs co-founder. “As Democrats, our organizing needs to evolve. We need to communicate with our voters with the technical sophistication of brands and other forces in their lives. Our campaigns need to reflect our culture. With Higher Ground Labs, we will ensure the progressive movement advances critical technology constantly, instead of just in 4 year cycles.”
Down-ballot candidates have felt the gap in progressive campaign technology most acutely, because progressives have historically focused technology and innovation on the top of the ticket. Since 2009, Democrats have lost control of the U.S. House, the Senate, and the White House, along with 900 state legislative seats. Higher Ground Labs aims to end both the cycle of “re-inventing the wheel” for each election season and the single-minded focus on presidential races. Now, technological development and innovation will happen continuously and all progressive candidates will have access to the best tech, data, and analytics tools—whether they’re running for city hall, the state house or the White House.
“Every Presidential cycle attracts young talent brimming with ideas for better political tech – but progressives have traditionally lacked a supportive landing zone for their products or solutions,” said Shomik Dutta, a Higher Ground Labs co-founder. “As a result, most of our political tech is born and buried on Presidential Campaigns. Our political campaigns are changing quickly, and the tech we use to identify, motivate, and turn-out supporters has to adapt just as quickly.”
“For-profit tech and data startups can do a lot to help progressives win in every important arena — at the ballot box, around the kitchen table, in the legislative chamber, on the newsfeed, in the town hall, and beyond,” said Andrew McLaughlin, a Higher Ground Labs co-founder. “We’ve designed Higher Ground Labs to be a flexible, rigorous, high-leverage vehicle of financial investment and active assistance to stand-out innovators in the progressive startup ecosystem.”
Higher Ground is co-founded by three top progressive leaders at the nexus of progressive politics and technology:
Betsy Hoover, a founding partner at 270 Strategies and the online organizing director for President Obama’s re-election campaign;
Shomik Dutta, founding partner of a private equity fund, senior finance staff for President Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, White House special assistant and former Advisor to the Chairman of the FCC.
Andrew McLaughlin, technology CEO and senior executive at companies including betaworks, Google, Digg, Instapaper, Medium, and Tumblr, and former Deputy CTO of the U.S. under President Obama.
The founders will be advised by a top-flight group of venture partners that includes campaign experts, technology gurus, and entrepreneurs and investors, including both well-known firms such as 270 Strategies and Amalgamated Bank and new, resistance-based efforts like The Arena.
The Higher Ground team has already hit the ground running. On top of raising $1 million in initial capital commitments, Higher Ground has already identified and made early commitments to several innovative initiatives. One example is Deck, a startup that has built a data-targeting tool that generates support and turnout scores for each voter in a district and can accurately forecast election outcomes more successfully than any polling.
Deck’s Founder Max Wood said “The surge of enthusiasm, creativity, and passion we’ve been seeing among progressives has been really exciting. However, there’s a real risk that we could end up losing the thread on this movement because people don’t have access to the support or structures they need to give their ideas a fair shot. That’s just one of the reasons I’m so excited that Higher Ground Labs is stepping up. They’re making sure that companies like mine have the opportunity to get off the ground, take some risks, and maybe change the way we organize so we can find new ways of winning. I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.”