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Startup Public Notice Tech Firm Column Raises $30M

Local and state governments are required to run public notices — often in print — about zoning changes, foreclosures, hearings and other actions. Column wants to update that process while adding value to public data.

A person in a business suit reading a newspaper.
Column, a startup seeking to update the seemingly ancient practice of placing public notices in newspapers, has raised $30 million in a Series A funding round — capital that could potentially serve to bring more efficiency to the process by which agencies inform citizens about government business.

Lux Capital led the funding round.

It stands as one of the latest deals in the still-hot area of government technology, which continues to absorb significant investment even as recession fears grow. Founded in 2020, Column has raised a total of $33.3 million from investors that include Amity Ventures and Govtech Fund, according to Column CEO and founder Jake Seaton in a blog post announcing the fresh capital.

Seaton comes from a Kansas family that operates local newspapers, a background that led him to combine his desire to impact the public sector via technology, at least according to his LinkedIn profile. His company’s software can automate and streamline the public notice process.

Public notices, often still mandated by states to appear in print, can make the difference between financial life and death for many (mostly smaller) newspapers, according to Bloomberg and journalism industry news source Poynter.

In a company video Seaton says the goal of Column is more than just digitizing the public notice process — by which local and state governments meet legal requirements to notify residents about such issues as zoning changes, foreclosures, bid requests and hearings — but to help publishers better serve their clients in government and other industries.

“Column is on a mission to make public information systems more valuable, beginning with public notice,” Seaton wrote in that blog post. “Hundreds of media organizations across the country have adopted our first product: public notice software. This software helps these organizations serve tens of thousands of their clients — government agencies, legal services, banks, businesses and individuals — in the transaction of public notices.”

The new Column funding comes as gov tech companies are trying to sell more technology to local governments centered around the proposition of wider digital citizen access to government meetings and documents. Granicus, for instance, recently launched a service call govMeetings Live Cast, which governments can use to stream meetings, manage agendas and minutes and provide digital access to records.

As for public notices, they still stand as reliable streams of revenue for newspapers — and have for generations — but that started to change as competing digital outlets and even government agency websites began handling that business. Now, as local media strives to make the most of those changes while keeping a grip on that revenue source, Column is positioning itself as a partner for those efforts, including through press organizations.

One recent example comes from the Deep South, where the company says it has partnered with the Louisiana Press Association on a project to redesign the group’s public notice website and make it more accessible for the state’s residents.

Seaton wrote that this new capital will go toward such specific goals as scaling the company’s core technology, already live in 50 states and being rolled out with a “handful of significant media enterprises”; expanding the “value of public notice transactions” via such legally required announcements as RFPs and sheriff’s sale notices; and further deployment of the Column API to “power public notice databases.”

In that blog post, Seaton expanded upon his vision for the company’s API and what it might mean for public agencies.

“By making the API publicly available, we expect to engage with media businesses, governments, academic researchers and businesses on ways to unlock new value in structured public information,” he wrote. “Coming this fall is the public release of the first-ever Public Notice API which provides structured machine-readable access to 60+ notice type categories.”

Seaton also addressed the longer-term future of Column, writing that he has no plans to sell the company but wants to take it public.