September 17, 2015

The Difference 90 Days Makes – Straight Shot Founder’s Class Recap

90 Days. It doesn’t seem like much time, three months can flash before your eyes (summer anyone??). Well for two members of ES&S this summer was just a little different. Participating in the Straight Shot accelerator program allowed them to focus in a way that’s not always possible in the corporate world. By signing on as the corporate partner, our team was able to validate our idea as a viable opportunity and build out in just 90 Days. Aspects of the accelerator and start-up culture in general can now be incorporated into how we approach new products in-house. Read on to see just how insightful the experience was and hear from both Shari Little and Rob Wiebusch, our intraprenuers for the project. 


Why a start-up accelerator

We know what you’re thinking. Why would an established company join a tech start-up accelerator? We weren’t looking for any angel investors nor did we receive seed funding (as is traditionally a part of this program).  Tom Burt, our President and CEO, put it best:

“Our company has a long history of bringing innovative products to our marketplace and we are constantly challenging ourselves to deliver these innovations faster and with higher quality. We thought it would be a great learning experience to immerse ourselves into a startup environment to see if we could push ourselves to perform even better.”

 

Straight Shot afforded us an opportunity not often available to many corporations; three months of uninterrupted work time, for one concept.

 

“This was a major investment to undergo;” remarked Rob Wiebusch, Director of Emerging Technologies, “taking two directors out of office completely for three months, letting Shari and me immerse ourselves in a program like this. ES&S had to have faith in us to really make this concept work.”


The problem to be validated

So what was worth sending two of our best to a tech accelerator for the WHOLE summer? Shari Little, Director of Innovations, answers “Our world today, is data driven. The decisions you make, the emails you get, the phone notifications you receive, all based on things you’ve bought and the way you behave. Data is not used nearly as much as it should be in the elections industry. We’re trying to bring elections into the 21st century by using the data already available.”

 




Enter Election Insights, our way of helping election administrators become election heroes. This suite of software and tools takes the data from a jurisdictions’ equipment (no personal stuff like issues voted for, just system information) and displays it in an easy to understand format. It gives election administrators valuable and actionable insights into their election operation. These insights can then be incorporated into better planning for the next election; whether it’s adding more poll workers between 9am and 12pm or training workers at a certain polling place more extensively. 


 

 

“The true value of this data hasn't been harnessed….until now. This is going to improve election operations for everyone; it will change the elections industry for the better” continues Little.


A true learning experience 

Now that Demo Day is done (the culmination of Straight Shot, where each participant pitches the audience their new business) what’s next? We sat down with both Shari and Rob to learn more about the experience and what it means for innovation at ES&S.
 

Traditionally only start-ups participate in accelerator programs such as Straight Shot (SS). How did you find the experience? 

Rob Wiebusch: We were really able to learn the lean start-up way of approaching ideas. SS pushed us to actually get out in front of customers in order to validate an idea, not just assume something would be of value.

Shari Little: Initially we both questioned whether the workshops would really be of help to us.

RW: We had an advantage over many of the other participants, a Marketing team, Legal taking care of intellectual property. We have already jumped through many of the hoops these start-ups are starting to face. 

SL: Rob and I decided to commit to the entire process, allowing us to really get clarity from all the noise that’s involved in validating a new concept. The partnerships we’ve gained were great. Rob got to reach out to one of the mentors — a public speaking coach. It made it easier for Rob to present Election Insights to people not familiar with election operations.

RW: The mentors available throughout SS were very helpful and pushed us to really approach this idea in a true start up fashion. While we conducted interviews with actual customers, we also made sure to conduct interviews with internal stakeholders.

SL: We looked at ES&S stakeholders as our board, our investors. We used these insights to bring together our internal pitch pre-Demo Day. 
 

 

You had just 90 days to validate this concept and pitch it, not typical of many projects of this caliber. Was the pressure on?

SL: I think any pressure is important. The entire corporate community [in Omaha] was looking at us. They wanted to gauge our success. I believe this helped us really approach this in the right way and not just go along with the status quo.


Now that Demo Day is done


The theme during Straight Shot’s Demo Day really says it best: “This is just the beginning”. While Shari and Rob are now officially back from "summer camp", the lessons they’ve learned haven’t been pushed to the side. Both are looking at ways to incorporate lean methodology in a holistic way. “I think this process can improve more than just product development here,” Shari added. 

 

 

Work has already begun on bringing this solution to customers, who will especially see the value as we approach the 2016 presidential election. The word is out on Election Insights, and the industry is listening.

Election expert Doug Chapin said being able to identify differences between the behavior of voters who come early in the day compared with those who come later in the day could be a key piece of data.

“Given there are other aspects of the day we can’t predict, like the weather, I think being able to predict how many voters will come in based on historic data and having the resources to prepare for how they will vote … will help election officials do more advance planning and then free them up to deal with truly unforeseen circumstances,” said Chapin, who is director of the Election Academy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

“It’s less about how someone will vote and more about what they do when they vote,” he said.

Excerpt taken from Startup spirit helps Omaha company ES&S innovate, thanks to Straight Shot incubator
 
 


Additional reading here: 9 Questions With the Intrapreneurs of ES&S

Data Is A Geek’s Best Friend: New ES&S Product Could Provide “Insights” Into Polling Place Operations