These Harvard grads are out to disrupt lobbying - Technical.ly DC

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Jun. 18, 2015 12:59 pm

These Harvard grads are out to disrupt lobbying

Meet Quorum Analytics cofounders Alex Wirth, 21, and Jonathan Marks, 22. Their clients include Holland & Knight, the United Nations Foundation and General Motors.

Quorum cofounders Alex Wirth and Jonathan Marks have some data-driven fixes for Capitol Hill.

(Photo by Flickr user Brad Clinesmith, used under a Creative Commons license)

A few weeks ago Alex Wirth, a boyish-looking 21-year-old, and his former roommate, 22-year-old Jonathan Marks, were picking up their college diplomas.

Now, they’re running a company in D.C.

Launched in January, Quorum Analytics grew out of Wirth’s frustrations with Capitol Hill and was incubated on the campus of Harvard University.

Wirth was rather well connected for a summer intern. The son of a New Mexico state senator and grandnephew of former Sen. Tim Wirth (D-Colo.), he used to crash on the couch of TrackMaven CEO Allen Gannett.

Alex Wirth

Alex Wirth. (Courtesy photo)

And yet, he felt worn down by the complexities of networking in D.C., after working here as a Senate Page and then interning for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).

When he organized a campaign to create a Presidential Youth Council, he realized that advocacy was real shoe-leather work — inefficiently so.

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“I saw first hand the challenges of the legislative process,” Wirth said. “How scattered the data is.”

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In the fall of 2013, he shared his experience with his roommate, Marks, a chemical and physical biology major who saw a problem that needed a data fix.

That was followed by months of consulting with former chiefs of staffs of members of Congress, lobbyists and staffers. The two young men were looking for a scientific solution to the crustiness of lobbying.

Their questions boiled down to: Who should you talk with to further your agenda? Which button should you push?

Quorum’s flagship product, a sort of pin cushion-shaped graph depicting with whom members of Congress have collaborated on bills, aims to map these relationships.

The data analysis helped prove that women in Congress are better at reaching across the aisle and closing deals than their male counterparts, according to a New York Times article.

But Wirth and Marks found other common Capitol Hill brunt work that could be simplified with software and data.

Quorum also offers a text comparison program that highlights changes in bills and a visualization of Census Bureau data mapped onto Congressional districts.

The software pulls its data from the Library of Congress, the websites and tweets of members of Congress, floor statements, Census data, committee websites and so on.

Jonathan Marks

Jonathan Marks. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s all scraped using Python to pull it in,” said Wirth.

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Since it publicly launched in January, Quorum Analytics’ client base has quadrupled in size and the company is already making a profit, Wirth said.

It charges $4,800 per year per user from big-name groups like the lobbying firm Holland & Knight, the United Nations Foundation, the First Focus Campaign for Children and several Fortune 500 companies, including General Motors.

Quorum is still officially bootstrapped.

The company started off with close to $90,000 collected from business plan competitions, including grants from the Harvard College Innovation Challenge and Harvard Institute of Politics Gov 2.0.

In May, Quorum won the Live Free in D.C. contest launched by the Washington, DC Economic Partnership at the SXSW festival.

They moved here in June, receiving free living accommodations and work space at Canvas.

The company’s team of recent and current college students — all younger than Wirth and Marks — works from three separate spaces, including a house in Foxhall and offices near Farragut Square.

In June, Quorum also launched the First Look Program, a free trial for the most “competitive” interns who apply.

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