This article by Amanda Bruno originally appeared on Built In NYC.
Let’s be honest. Most of us cannot wait until Nov. 8 is in our rear view mirror, but that shouldn’t mean politics should take a backseat until the next election year.
The main focus is voting in President Barack Obama’s successor. Then there are the Representatives who introduce these critical bills that impact our everyday lives. Off the top of your head, can you recall what your Rep voted for or against over the last year?
Most Americans don’t pay much attention to this and feel the process is daunting. It’s a problem that Maria Yuan is trying to solve.
Yuan, 35, is the CEO and Founder of IssueVoter, a civic engagement tool, which helps the public keep track of the issues they care about.
“There is so much focus during an election year, but after the polls close, the public is disengaged the rest of the time,” said Yuan who used to work in investment banking. “You would never hire someone without seeing their work, but we vote and re-elect without knowing the laws that pass and whether they’re doing a good job representing us.”
Her team is currently working on creating a widget which would give users one-click access to receive alerts before a bill is passed, allow them to send their opinion to their local Rep, and track their Rep’s vote and bill outcome. But they need help, so Yuan decided to team up with Startup Institute New York, a career development bootcamp that gives people the necessary skills to land a job they love in tech.
IssueVoter started out as a “passion project,” while Yuan was still working full-time as Head of Virtual Recruiting at Credit Suisse, and has never had a problem recruiting for the cause.
The current CTO, Chris Henry, who is the former Head of Technical Operations and co-CTO of Behance, cold-emailed her and, after a few meetings, joined the team.
“It just felt really easy and natural to work together,” she said.
Yuan first demoed IssueVoter at New York Tech Meetup in October 2015 followed by NYC Big Apps in the Civic Engagement Category. Over 100 companies entered and hers was one of the six winners.
One of the judges was the CIO of Google.
“It was a validation,” Yuan said. “It gave me the confidence of knowing that I have a good idea.”
With that, Yuan left her full-time job in April to focus on her passion project full-time and take it to the next level. And Startup Institute students — many of whom have also recently left jobs to pursue their passions —were eager to help.
As part of the program’s Day 4 Idea Hack Challenge — a hackathon without the code — students split up into six teams and had 24 hours to come up with a plan.
The challenge was to make civic engagement accessible, efficient and bring more of an impact.
Each team had three minutes to present their solutions and an additional three of Q&A in front of three judges who included Yuan, Startup Institute Program Director David Yourgrau and Adrienne Schmoeker of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Innovation.
“The energy of the students was impressive,” Schmoeker said. “I love the fact that Startup Institute incorporated a social impact element into their programming so early on … I think that’s huge.”
Team 6 — Andra Stanciu, Jon Maldia, Gabs Drake and Marian Tes — were announced as the winners.
“Something they did really well was giving us specific numbers and stats; things that were researched, which I liked,” Yuan said.
They went in-depth with specific UX/UI mock-ups of the widget, a branding and marketing strategy, as well as a growth strategy of where to pitch the widget and why.
“Theirs was the most thorough presentation that gave recommendations that fit our mission and vision,” she added.
Team 2 — Toyese Adeyeye, Julia Yang, Trevor Nguyen, Charles Ferguson and Demetra Demetracopoulos — was the runner-up.
“[They] also addressed each question, and included the best design idea to engage readers first screen of the widget,” Yuan said.
For Startup Institute students, Idea Hack was an invaluable learning experience and the perfect way to close out Week 1.
“We had to give up certain things that we wanted,” said web development student Maldia. “That’s what we realized … we just had to come to a point where we had to compromise. It kind of democratized the whole process.”
“We put ourselves aside and we cared more about the project,” added Stanciu, a sales and account management student. “We didn’t care about our colleagues. It wasn’t our personal interests, it was the team’s interests and it was very clear.”
IssueVoter also created the #WhyIVote campaign to encourage people to share why this election is so important to them, with the goal of increasing voter turnout on Nov. 8.
Influencers like Orange is the New Black actress Alysia Reiner and author Adam Grant are participating and joining is easy: 1) Head to whyivote.us to add an issue you care about and upload your picture, then (2) Share your picture across social media. A sample Tweet or Facebook caption could be: I’m an @issuevoter & [your issue] is #WhyIVote! Join me and create your own pic at http://whyivote.us.
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