This Week in Civic Tech: 3 Startups for Politics, Outreach and Real Estate

A look back at highlights and happenings in the world of civic tech.

by / November 19, 2015
Andrea Campbell, Boston's District 4 City Council member, used the new startup Polis to help target voter canvassing during her campaign. Andrea Campbell for Boston District 4

This Week in Civic Tech presents a lineup of notable events in the space that connects citizens to government services. Topics cover latest startups, hackathons, open data initiatives and other influencers. Check back each week for updates.

Campaign Tech for Local Candidates
What if local candidates had access to presidential campaign analytics and canvassing strategies? That’s the service and selling point for the startup Polis, a political canvassing platform that provides local candidates with algorithmic intelligence for voter outreach. Founded in 2015 by Kendall Tucker, a former Democratic campaign manager, and former Republican campaign staffer and developer Steven Liss, Polis produces optimized walking routes for volunteers while noting voter contact numbers and promised support. Candidates can track their canvassers in real time as they knock on doors and record information on mobile devices. In an email to Government Technology, Tucker said the app adjusts to any location and learns “from each voter interaction to continuously retarget voters.” The startup hopes to break into the political tech market as a low-cost option to campaign consultants, who Tucker said most local candidates can’t afford anyway. In this sense, Polis is envisioned to have a democratizing effect. Seven campaigns have tested the technology so far and all have won their seats, including Boston City Council Member Andrea Campbell and At-Large Council Member Michelle Wu. Though the two co-founders aren’t promising sure wins, the efficiency and price point could be a winning proposition for small or large campaigns. Coming for 2016 are enhancements to the platform that will add more citizen data sets to prioritize voter contacts and additional features for volunteers to generate their own contact lists inside routes.

Cambridge CoUbranizes
The Cambridge, Mass.-based startup CoUrbanize has collaborated on a number of civic engagement partnerships since it was founded in 2013. Now the startup, which specializes in city planning outreach, has announced a sizable partnership in its own backyard. In an email to Government Technology, Co-Founder Karin Brandt said a collaboration with city officials is underway to gather community input using the company’s interactive platform. The takeaway for citizens is a social media-like dashboard with mapped development sites, project updates and a channel to submit feedback to officials and developers. As with CoUrbanize’s other collaborations, the site digests city open data to produce insights throughout a development cycle. According to an article from the Massachusetts real-estate news site Banker & Tradesman, the startup is expected to post 42 projects on the site including more than 3,000 new residential units and the city’s Kendall Square urban renewal plan, a site totaling roughly 1 million square feet. Cambridge is one of the latest jurisdictions to use the service. Its reach has steadily grown with Boston signing up for the service in January, along with a handful of municipalities, mostly on the East Coast. The service’s business model draws its funding from subscriptions from developers and municipalities.

App Computes Philly Housing Data
For most, buying a home is one of the biggest investments they’ll make. The Philadelphia startup Brixsy seeks to be the answer to avoiding potential pitfalls with such purchases. Founder Matt Einheber, who leads the title insurance agency Vista Abstract, launched his civic tech startup in 2015 to provide real-estate reports for investors. Whether buyer, seller, mortgage lender or creditor, the service calculates a property valuation in a range of high to low through the help of the city’s open property data and other sources. Users can discover basic information on a property for free or get a detailed report starting at $35 with an analysis showing encumbrances that might be attached. The information entails a variety of data, but categories include liens, city violations, taxes owed, mortgages, judgments and property usage. The effort is part tech and part title expertise with a team of experts that reviews jargon-laden documents — like insurance commitments for a title policy — and summarizes the information in user-friendly terms. At present Brixsy is only available in the Philadelphia area, but according to the site, it's exploring expansion options.

Jason Shueh former staff writer

Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.