ElectNext: political matchmaking startup launches local politics effort in Philly, now has offices in NYC, SF

After ElectNext left the Philadelphia Media Network’s Project Liberty incubator at the beginning of the summer, the political matchmaking startup left the city. The team is now split between the coasts, with CEO Keya Dannenbaum and Chief Design Officer Jake Wells in New York City and CTO John Mertens in San Francisco. But the homegrown Philly startup isn’t forgetting […]

The company makes spacesuits. It may also build something *like* a space experience, inside its Brooklyn facility.

A company makes spacesuits in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It's called Final Frontier Design. The company recently announced a partnership with Starfighters Aerospace to optimize spacesuits for work inside the firm's supersonic jets. The move anticipates an application by Starfighters to license their jets as commercial space travel vehicles. Starfighters currently owns and operates eight Lockheed F-104s out of the Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility, in Florida. [slideshow_deploy id='17439'] Final Frontier Design was cofounded by Nikolay Moiseev and Ted Southern, who initially met as competitors in NASA's 2007 glove competition. Moiseev is a veteran of the Russian space program, and Southern is a sculptor and artist. They decided to join forces and won a subsequent competition together in 2009. Most of the company's revenue up to this point has come from making spacesuit components for NASA, especially gloves. Southern gave us the story when we stopped by his Brooklyn Navy Yard workshop last Friday. He started out as a sculptor and costume designer, but when he went to get his MFA at Pratt, he focused his work on hands and gloves. When NASA announced its 2007 contest, he decided to enter it as his MFA project. He did well enough that it morphed into a career. Relying on government contracts, particularly as a very small company, has not been sustainable, Southern said. "It’s not continuous, it’s not reliable, it’s not predictable," he said. Add to that a plethora of complicated rules relating to the security of designs used for space travel. The company sees a future in three primary revenue streams:

  1. Short-term, Final Frontier is trying to figure out how to give people who can't afford a trip into space something like a space experience in their Brooklyn facility. They could give people the full experience of getting into a suit, pressurizing, trying certain tasks in the suit that astronauts routinely have to practice, as well as getting in the flight simulator. “I see that as a really nice in for this new industry of space for people who can’t pay $250K to go to space," Southern said. The company has begun scripting a potential experience.
  2. Long-term, the team projects a bright future for intra-vehicular space activity (IVA) spacesuits. These are the suits that travelers wear as they leave Earth's atmosphere but don't leave the vehicle. NASA is primarily interested in extra-vehicular activity suits (EVA), but if private space flight takes off, each company will need several dozen IVA suits.
  3. An additional long-term market is training companies, such as Waypoint 2 Space. These companies get travelers ready to experience weightlessness, do work in space or simply give people the experience of training.
Once the Final Frontier suits have gone through the flight certification process, Southern expects they will sell for about $80,000 each. Suits for training companies may not need to be flight certified, so they could be less expensive. Certification is done by NASA. It is lengthy and expensive, but potentially worth it, if a company's suit is seen as the best solution by players in space travel.

After ElectNext left the Philadelphia Media Network’s Project Liberty incubator at the beginning of the summer, the political matchmaking startup left the city.

The team is now split between the coasts, with CEO Keya Dannenbaum and Chief Design Officer Jake Wells in New York City and CTO John Mertens in San Francisco.

But the homegrown Philly startup isn’t forgetting its roots, Dannenbaum says. The political matchmaking startup is now looking local — and it’s piloting the effort right here.

“There’s no other local community we’d rather start in,” says Dannenbaum, who founded the company while she was at Wharton.

On the brink of the presidential election, ElectNext has been getting a lot of national buzz, with mentions in Forbes and VentureBeat, as well as being named a “DEMO God” at the San Francisco startup showcase. Here are three big news updates from the company:

Dave Zega is ElectNext’s National Director of Local Communities. He’s based out of Indy Hall in Philly and is leading ElectNext’s local politics effort

  • ElectNext no longer has a single headquarters. Though Dannenbaum herself is in New York City’s coworking spot General Assembly, she stresses that the startup doesn’t think of any city as a headquarters. The team is split up between three cities. Mertens, the startup’s CTO, works in San Francisco, while Dave Zega, the new National Director of Local Communities, has set up shop in Philly’s Indy Hall. The company is building out its staff in each base, according to its jobs site. Dannenbaum says she also recently hired a developer to work in ElectNext’s Philly office.
  • It now has paying customers. ElectNext counts several big name publications as partners, including The Washington Post, PBS NewsHour and NBC Politics. The site also reached more than 1 million unique visitors so far this month (counting its partner organizations and not solely ElectNext.com), according to a recent release, and has seen over 1,000 percent growth in the past four months.
  • It’s diving into local politics. Led by Zega, the effort will focus on issues and not just candidates. Zega says ElectNext aims to be the place people turn to when they want to get involved with local issues. It hopes to partner with organizations big and small, like the political watchdog group Committee of Seventy and local civic associations. There’s a “huge data divide” at the local level, says Zega, who’s worked on two local political campaigns. “We wanted to bridge that.”  Zega, 31, lives in Southwest Center City (his civic association is the South of South Neighborhood Association, or SOSNA, for short) and came to Philly for grad school at Penn.

As for leaving Philly, Dannenbaum says the relocations were driven by practicality and convenience. Much of ElectNext’s business development work is media-facing, and New York City is a media hub, she says, while Mertens, a former Code for America fellow, can be immersed in the West Coast developer world over in San Francisco.

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ElectNext also made the move to be closer to its primary investor, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Dannenbaum says. There was also a personal reason for the move: Dannenbaum’s husband now works in Connecticut, where they now both live.

Updated 4:33 10/25/12 to clarify that ElectNext’s 1 million unique hits include its partner organizations like Philly.com, Washington Post, etc.

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