(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Public discourse has always been important to John Davis.
As a former prosecutor and debate specialist dating back to high school, Davis honed his ability to make arguments — and win. With Notice and Comment, he’s looking to provide the tools to form a successful argument to others.
The ETC-based startup focuses on the process that produces new regulations in the U.S. government. While there’s lots of talk of civic engagement around election times, Davis noted that new notices about changes to rules and regulations by the federal government are coming out everyday. The process is designed so that the public can weigh in. Proposals like killing net neutrality get millions of comments.
“That is the one civic opportunity where you can get engaged, make an argument and potentially effect the outcome specifically, as opposed to indirectly through an election,” he said.
The proposed regulations are all required to be published publicly, but going through the comments themselves requires filing through long lists of legalese. Davis started by looking to build a way to digitize the public comment process. When it came to a business model, however, he realized another step was necessary.
“Making the [digital] transition isn’t the model, it’s using the data once the transition happens for analytics,” he said of the shift.
Earlier this year, the startup launched a platform that brings data analysis to the federal register. Using Natural Language Processing, Regendus can pick out key points of regulations that organizations specify, and analyze public comments to track sentiments and trends.
The platform leverages IBM’s Watson, and Notice and Comment worked with IBM on its prototype. The tech giant invested about 5,300 hours at its Federal Innovations Center in Northern Virginia in developing the technology for the regulatory process.
Last year, Notice and Comment built out and tested the product to get it ready for launch. The startup currently has six team members working at ETC’s Haven campus.
The company has also been raising money. Notice and Comment recently closed on $275,000 in equity funding from the Maryland Deptartment of Commerce’s Equity Participation Investment Program and Harbor Bank of Maryland. TEDCO also invested $100,000 in seed funding last year.
With the product launched, Davis said the company sees a big potential to sell directly to the government, and Davis said it’s been tested in federal government agencies including the White House Office of Management and Budget as part of the development process.
Advocacy organizations and businesses also invest resources into tracking regulatory changes, and can benefit from the analysis, Davis said, and the company had 20 orgs signed on at launch.
“If you’ve got analytics on the data when you’re formulating your argument, you have a better chance at winning,” Davis said.
The debate specialist believes that process can extend to both large and small organizations, and ultimately “puts the power in the common person’s hands.”