Keya Dannenbaum, Elect Next, Woman Entrepreneur
I was a judge for the Web 2.0 Expo this past autumn. I read about each company that was part of the show to educate myself before showing up. Elect Next popped out at me. There is no doubt that our political system needs to be disrupted but how? I really thought the idea of using the hunch model where questions were asked and you answered them around topics that are part of the political landscape based on your zip code could be a pretty powerful tool. Maybe people who thought they were behind one candidate might find out that there was a different candidate that their views were better aligned with. Particularly when it comes to local politics when there are about 5 judges to elect and you know nothing about any of them. Ends up, Elect Next was one of the winners at Web 2.0 as well as winners at many events since. I sat down with Keya Dannenbaum, the entrepreneur behind Elect Next and was just as impressed with her as much as I was with what she built.
Keya grew up in Austin, Texas. Her parents are both professors of molecular biology as UT Austin. They both came here from India in 1977 to do their post-graduate work and that is where they met. Keya left Austin to go to college at Stanford to major in international relations. Taking her junior year abroad in Seville, Spain where she studied Spanish and sangria. She graduated in 2003 with a Fullbright Scholarship and moved to Bogota Columbia.
In Bogota she worked with a NGO that worked with refugees who were internally displaced due to the armed conflicts throughout the region. She stayed a year and then with her boyfriend (now husband) backpacked around South America for three months. Instead of moving back to the states, they both took jobs in India and moved to Bombay. He took a supposed safe job working for Lehman Bros and Keya worked for a human rights organization focusing on womens rights. She even wrote a book while she was there about womens legal rights in the work place with her boyfriend.
A year was enough and they both enrolled in the Phd program at Princeton in International Politics. After two weeks she realized it was the wrong program for her but she stuck it out. She spent two years there, got her masters and then went to work on Hilary Clintons campaign in 2008. She moved out to Los Angeles for a year working on the campaign finance end while her husband went to Yale to get his law degree. After the election Keya moved to New Haven to be with Tom.
In New Haven she got pulled back into politics. Ended up running the campaign for the mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano. An incredible experience because it is such a different angle being local. You get to interface with real people every day. Believe it or not, after this experience Keya went to Wharton to get her MBA. I kept giving her a hard time about how over educated she is.
At Wharton she got so wrapped up in everything she had just left and then getting to school she realized that she completely forgot to register to vote. She missed the deadline. It was then that the idea of Elect Next was formed. She was taking a class at Wharton where they had to come up with a prototype for a business in one week and then she got such unbelievable feedback and traction on Elect Next she realized she was on to something.
Keya knew she needed a tech co-founder and literally stalked developers at Penn. She found Paul Jungwirth, a Phd student and got him on board. She took a leave of absence at Wharton to pursue building her start-up. Keya is looking for funding right now.
I am not so sure about the revenue piece of the business although alot of companies would pay for their data but I do love the concept. Go to Elect Next and check it out. What is interesting is people who go through the process of answering the questions and find that the candidate that best aligns with what is important to them isn't who they thought it should be end up contacting Keya to tell her that the site must be broken. Now, doesn't that say something.