A group of Belmont students and alumni are working to increase civic responsibility through a web application that explains United States government and politics. Funded through a $15,000 investment, the app, Poliana, aggregates millions of data points on a wide range of government activity, including voting records, financial contributions, lobbying, bills and industry influence.
Nashville business incubator Jumpstart Foundry awarded Poliana founders with the start-up cash during a 14-week process. Throughout the process the founders–Belmont students David Gilmore and Patrick Cason along with alumni Grayson Carroll, Kenny House and Seth Whiting– were guided and mentored by Nashville’s most influential business people, designers, developers, lawyers, marketers and entrepreneurs. Their entrepreneurial jumpstart culminated with “investor day,” where Poliana presented a 10-minute business pitch to hundreds of potential investors from all over the country.
“I was pushed to learn and produce results at an extremely accelerated rate, and the progress I made was clear. Overall, the experience more than prepared me for the trials of running a successful business, and I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity to learn from the brightest minds of the Nashville business community,” said Carroll (’13), Poliana’s chief executive officer.
From May to August, Poliana’s staff worked 60-hour weeks at The Jumpstart Foundry, located in the Nashville Entrepreneurship Center on Second Avenue South, developing software, the website and business leads, preparing for investor day, listening to academic lectures from Nashville-area business executives and learning about accounting and marketing.
“It really became an incredible opportunity to ask questions to the most important executives in Nashville and develop mentors,” said Chief Operating Officer Cason. “The biggest lessons I learned from Jumpstart were not only to fail early but also to fail often and to embrace your failures. We had the idea to connect people to politicians, and we had to pivot.”
They created Poliana as a way for Americans to get objective information about their elected officials and government. What makes Poliana different from other website and news sources, Cason said, is that it leverages big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning to compile information about the country’s political system. Poliana is working towards its beta release in spring 2014.
“I’m delighted that Grayson, David and Patrick have experienced such success with Poliana. The recognition and support they have received through Jumpstart Foundry, the Nashville Entrepreneurship Center, and from so many leaders throughout the technology community speaks to their seemingly unlimited initiative, energy and talent,” said Mathematics Professor Glenn Acree, also program director of Pathways to Science, Technology and Mathematics. “Belmont’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science is fortunate to consistently attract students of this caliber. This is a great opportunity to celebrate our students’ achievements and to thank the technology community for partnering with us in the preparation for their successful future.