One thing is immediately obvious from speaking with entrepreneur Damola Ogundipe: he’s extremely passionate about civic engagement. When talking about the subject, he occasionally has to stop himself and apologize for going so fast.
Frankly, that is refreshing here in a country where public participation in the process of shaping policies is dreadfully low. Ogundipe notes that, out of 169 nations in the world practicing democracy, the United States rank 120th in voter turnout.
“It’s ironic,” he quips, “that we bring democracy to the rest of the world, but we really lack at it.”
His mission is to change that, and he’s seeking to do so through civic technology. Ogundipe is the CEO and founder of Civic Eagle, a St. Paul startup that launched about a year and a half ago with an ambitious goal of substantially shifting the level of immersion citizens have with politics and policies.
Rather than lamenting the mixed-up priorities at play in an environment where people are more focused on their Facebook page than their appointed representative, Ogundipe’s company taps into the power of social networking with its most public-facing product: a mobile app simply called “EAGLE.”
With the tagline “Social life meets civic life,” EAGLE creates a virtual grounds for discussion through a variety of innovative and engaging features. One such component is a micro-video debate mechanism, in which people can weigh in on different sides of an issue and others can vote support one way or the other.
The company plans to support this non-revenue-generating app through other subscription-based products that attack civic engagement from different angles. One, called Eagle Eye, is geared toward policy leaders and advocates, providing cloud-based analytical tools and constituent feedback portals. Another, called Eagle’s Nest, is an educational platform that takes social studies to another level through civic process simulations. Both are scheduled to go live in 2015.
It’s all part of what Ogundipe calls a “holistic experience” intended to bring all stakeholders together. The University of Minnesota graduate leads a team of seven, but he has funded Civic Eagle entirely by himself, through bootstrapping and personal investments.
“I tapped into every last bit of money I have to give this a go,” he says. “I quit my job. I’m all in.”
The startup group will begin a fundraising round in mid-November to raise capital and bring their products to where they want them to be. At that point, the founder has big ideas for the social impact he’d like to his company to make.
Will his passion turn into profits and increased participation, as he hopes? Time will tell, but rest assured he’s highly motivated to change the situation.