Two must-read posts for entrepreneurs launching for-profit “civic startups.”
First, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures partner, Charlie O’Donnell describes his participation as the lead investor in the $1.3 million seed round for ElectNext, a “CrunchBase” for political data. ElectNext plans on licensing their political data to media partners, lobbying groups, and political campaigns. Other investors in the round include the Knight Foundation, which had previously given ElectNext a $150,000 grant, and Digital News Ventures, a seed fund of the Media Development Investment Fund.
Second, Nick Grossman of Union Square Ventures describes the current funding ecosystem for for-profit civic startups. Excerpt:
What makes the venture investing space work is that there is an established pipeline of funding: you raise your angel or seed round, and assuming you hit your milestones you can continue to raise a series A, B, etc. At each stop on the ladder, there are funders who are waiting for you, know what to look for, and are ready to invest if things look right. This funding ecosystem is designed to help turn ideas into billion dollar businesses.
With ventures that are shooting at a different target — say, building a thriving (but not billion dollar) business that also advances a cause (civic or otherwise) — things look a little different. There is a real risk of “setting ventures up to fail” by pumping them up with seed funding, and then leaving them hanging when it runs out and there’s no one there to fund the next round.
In Spanish, an article about yesterday’s presentation of the winning apps in the #app115 competition. The competition, which was organized by Codeando México, was a response to an article published in Reforma that reveals that the Mexican Congress signed a contract for US $10 million to develop a basic smartphone app for internal use only. The young entrepreneurs behind Codeando México were also inspired by a recent TechCrunch post that quotes California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom as complaining that an “IT Cartel” is preventing innovation in the public sector’s use of technology. The winning app, Diputados, can be downloaded for iOS here. Mexican legislators can use the app on their new iPads, which they were given by the telecommunications monopoly Telmex the day before the legislative debate about a proposed telecommunication reform bill.
The president of the Commission of Science and Technology of the Mexican House of Representatives at the award ceremony of #app115
Internews releases a study titled Mapping the Maps which takes a detailed look at the use and impact of Ushahidi and Crowdmap (the cloud-hosted version of Ushahidi). Of the 12,757 Crowdmaps, 93% of had fewer than 10 reports and only one user. Tiago Peixoto calls the study “a milestone in the efforts to better understand ICT mediated reporting (or engagement), a field in which policy is rarely backed by good evidence.”
Kate Crawford of MIT describes the “hidden biases of big data:”
How to address these weaknesses in big data science? In the near term, data scientists should take a page from social scientists, who have a long history of asking where the data they’re working with comes from, what methods were used to gather and analyze it, and what cognitive biases they might bring to its interpretation (for more, see “Raw Data is an Oxymoron“). Longer term, we must ask how we can bring together big data approaches with small data studies — computational social science with traditional qualitative methods.