• WisBusiness

Polco applies the power of “crowd sourcing” to local government
12/14/2016

Coming off the most fractious national election in recent memory, it’s not surprising that many people yearn for a better way to engage with citizens.

Polco is a new civic engagement site that allows citizens of many cities and counties to become more informed and educated on current issues, weigh in on public policy, and lowers the influence of money within politics. This online site provides polling policy and voter-file-verified constituent analytics to local governments around the United States.

The company was profiled as part of a new business series done this fall by UW-Madison students.

The owner of Polco, Nick Mastronardi, served in the Air Force for years before transferring to become a senior economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. During the time he realized governments were having a hard time connecting with citizens. Mastronardi wanted to solve this problem and Polco was formed.

“We are trying to connect citizens with their government,” Mastronardi said. “Our goal is to generate broader and more interested civic participation. Doing that, people will become more aware of issues and be able to voice their opinions.”

Another issue that Polco hopes to alleviate is the role of money in politics. Currently, elected officials have to raise large sums of money to run campaigns and advertisements in order to be voted into office. In turn, people wonder whether these officials are representing the ideas and policies they truly believe in, or those of their representing donor.

Polco looks to solve this problem because it makes it easier for people to be involved. Educating the people of our nation will allow election decisions to be based on the quality of their representation as citizens instead of their responses and reactions to bought advertising.

“This solution added benefit of also de-emphasizing short polarizing media sound bytes by helping people be more involved in policies, not the politics, and the quality of their representation,” Mastronardi said.

An average city spends $50,000 a year in civic engagement, he said. This reflects landline phone polls, postcard mailers and city staff time monitoring social media, email, and compiling these channels into reports to be represented at the next council meeting.

While it’s good that local governments care about civic engagement, these techniques leave different holes in communication, which can confuse citizens and result in them getting overwhelmed and not participating.

When citizens don’t participate, Mastronardi said, the people who represent them cannot feel confident voicing their representation of the people’s thoughts in city hall or the county courthouse.

There are four competing tools that look to solve these same problems. While two of them have been around for quite some time and the other two are more recent, Mastronardi said, they lack the accuracy on voter verification that Polco provides. The door-to-door polls are more accurate than the online tools, but it still doesn’t compare to Polco’s analytics.

Polco projects to do business with 180 cities and counties throughout the United States. This service accounts for both small and large cities. Navasota, Texas, a city of 8,000, and Dane County, a community of 500,000, are both using their services right now.

Nick Mastronardi presented to investors and others at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, which was attended by 620 people in mid-November.

“We are a seed stage company raising $500,000 mostly from individual angels to give our company runway to find the most efficient scalable path to market, at which point we intend to raise another round to execute the scaling along the efficient path to the broader market,” he said.

Polco has already won three awards in big competitions. It won the information technology category in the 2015 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, the People’s Choice Wisconsin Innovator Award and Madison Chamber of Commerce Pressure Chamber Award.

--Taylor Morey
Morey is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communications.

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