Polco co-founder and CEO Nick Mastronardi says he’s thrilled his company won last night’s annual Pressure Chamber Pitch Night in Madison.
“It’s amazing,” he told WisBusiness.com after the event. “It’s really exciting for our company, an early stage company trying to tackle a big problem. We need all the help we can get and support, and that the community is behind us as we tackle these big problems is really exciting for us.”
The contest, now in its third year, gives Madison-area startups the chance to compete for a free trip to pitch to Silicon Valley investors. And this year, the so-called “golden suitcase” went to Polco, whose technology helps local governments better connect with their citizens on policy proposals.
Mastronardi, a 35-year-old US Air Force Reserve officer, taught economics at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was a senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
He also was in his first year as a senior economist at Amazon when he decided to pack up and head to to an accelerator in Texas to focus on his startup.
“It’s hard to quantify the intensity of the passion he has, the work he’s put in and what he’s given up to pursue Polco,” said Michael Ertmer, who leads the Bunker Labs @ Wisconsin program for military veteran entrepreneurs at University Research Park that Polco is a part of.
Polco is currently working with Dane County, the city of Whitewater and several other local governments across the country. Those governments, Mastronardi said, often struggle with getting citizens engaged in the policy-making process and usually only have input from the few people who show up to the city council meetings or respond to mailers and landline calls.
Instead, Polco’s apps collect opinion from citizens on proposals and agenda items and then analyze the data they get.
“Vote for Polco here tonight,” Mastronardi told the pitch night attendees. His company won the vote from the judges and from the public.
Mastronardi is also hoping to partner with cities as they try to gather data from those without smartphones, helping them with analyzing the data they might get from mailers or other tools. And Polco’s technology, he said, can also help local governments reach those younger citizens who might not care much for city politics — and get them to share their thoughts on proposals with their friends and family.
“As soon as your eyes are open to the amount of money flowing through City Hall and what the issues actually are, they say, ‘Hey, this is important. Let me have input,’” he said.
The past two winners were Fishidy and BluDiagnostics, which both closed fundraising rounds after they presented at the competition, according to the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce.
AkitaBox, whose platform helps building managers automate maintenance, planning and inspections, was the runner-up in last night’s contest. The company, which closed a $1.1 million round this spring, was co-founded by a former industry consultant who coordinated the construction of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building.
— By Polo Rocha,