Martin O'Malley, the 'startup candidate,' meets area startups - DC


Oct. 22, 2015 11:45 am

Martin O’Malley, the ‘startup candidate,’ meets area startups

Eight civic tech companies pitched to the presidential candidate on Wednesday night. O'Malley did some pitching, too.

Martin O'Malley with pitch event winner Jimmy Chen of Propel and the event's judges.

(Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

Startups are a good metaphor for Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaign. Or at least, that’s the metaphor the team was going with as the candidate hosted a civic tech pitch event at the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center on Wednesday night.

Eight companies took the stage to deliver two-minute pitches to a panel of judges as well as a room of campaign supporters and curious onlookers. O’Malley himself sat on the panel, joined by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Localist CEO Mykel Nahorniak, Temple University Professor of Business Strategy Omar Woodward, angel investor Zeki Mokhtarzada and AnthroTronix founder and CEO Cori Lathan.

While the judges retired to make their decision on a winner, Swalwell introduced O’Malley as a “startup” of a candidate.

“Our generation needs someone in the White House who ‘gets it’ when it comes to tech,” he told the crowd.

Swalwell went on to call O’Malley a digital native, a comment the candidate himself seemed amused by. “I can’t wait to tell my kids,” he quipped, taking the stage.

O’Malley’s speech focused on the connection and inclusion that tech makes possible. While he certainly was given longer than two minutes, O’Malley used the atmosphere of the event as an opportunity to “pitch” the country (and specifically those present) on his candidacy.

O'Malley "pitches" to the crowd.

O’Malley “pitches” to the crowd. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

This is the second civic tech pitch event that O’Malley has hosted (the first was in San Francisco last month), and he told that he plans to hold similar events around the country. So what does “civic tech” mean to O’Malley? As the evening wound to a close he gave a definition — two definitions, actually.


First, O’Malley says he thinks of civic tech as a common platform to connect people to each other. And beyond that, civic tech is “the use of modern technology to crowdsource problem solving.”

Here are the eight companies that, in one way or another, met these definitions last night:

1. Propel
  • The self-described “TurboTax for food stamps” has created in order to simplify, and modernize, the process of applying for food stamps. The winning startup, based in Brooklyn, has been mentioned in past reporting.
2. Open Data Nation
  • This startup wants to “put open data to good use.” They do this by consulting with and providing strategies for organizations that publish this data. They also provide training on using and publishing open data.
3. Ideal Impact
  • Have you ever read a news article about a world issue, wanted to help in some way but didn’t know where to turn? That’s what Ideal Impact is for. The startup aims to “reimagine civic experience” by identifying volunteer, advocacy or service opportunities in new articles and advertising these directly to the reader.
4. Sandboxx
  • This company wants to help raise the morale of the American military who are off the grid by making it easier for them to stay connected with family back home. Family and friends at home can use the app to upload pictures and messages which will then be converted into physical mail, and sent to a specific member of the military, by the Sandboxx team.
5. Mosavali
  • Connects rural farmers (apparently the world’s most popular profession — the team is currently working with farmers in the nation of Georgia) with information and resources they need to increase their crop yields.
6. MPOWER Financing
  • Provides loans to both international and domestic students who are high potential but somehow left out of traditional students loan programs. MPOWER works with universities and investors and judges creditworthiness on the basis of the student’s future, not his or her past.
7. New Majority Community Labs
  • As you’re probably aware, the demographics of the United States are changing rapidly. Historic minority groups are expected to become the new majority, and this company is working to “redefine democracy for the new majority.” The startup provides training to communities of color, teaching community members how to identify and solve their particular challenges.
8. NewsUp
Jimmy Chen, founder and CEO of Propel, during his winning pitch.

Jimmy Chen, founder and CEO of Propel, during his winning pitch. (Photo by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier)

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