ITEXPO StartupCamp5 Produces Fan Favorite from Harvard

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

ITEXPO StartupCamp5 Produces Fan Favorite from Harvard

Thumbnail image for vote pic.gifIt is hard to dislike anything about ITEXPO’s traditional StartupCamp event. Startup companies are given five minutes to bask in the spotlight and give insight into their innovations; a panel of expert judges throws a few curve balls at the presenters to make sure they are sweating just enough; and the audience gets to vote on which startup company deserves investor backing and a promising future.

Miami’s StartupCamp5 last week brought all the usual delights of the event and a fan favorite in Monica Liu, a Harvard undergrad student and co-founder of Townhall 140, a startup company that competed against three others at last week’s event. Simply put, Townhall 140 is an online platform that relies on Twitter and video to bolster civic engagement.

On one side of the website, users can tweet (that’s where the 140 in the company name comes from for all you who were wondering!) which issues they would like to discuss with a politician. Visitors to the site can then vote on which Tweets designated political leaders should address first. Once leaders agree to participate in a live Townhall event, authors of posts at the top of the Twitter feed will get a chance to live video chat with these political figures.

According to the Harvard masterminds behind the site, Townhall 140 is aimed at making influencers and elected officials accessible, encouraging democratic participation and increasing issue awareness. Last November the site held its first town hall, hosting Trey Grayson, the director of the Institute of Politics, to talk about Occupy Harvard. The startup has plans to tackle the White House in the coming months.

While Monica did not win the Startup Camp vote for funding – as, a for lawyers, marginally edged her out – she sure walked away from the event with a ton of respect.

Putting aside what Townhall 140 is about, many remarked about how exciting it was to see that a young woman felt comfortable enough in the male-dominated technology space to take to the mic in front of hundreds of guests (who were predominately male) to talk about her innovation. It should be noted that the three other presenters, four panel judges, moderator and keynote speaker Sir Terry Matthews were all male as well. And at shows were oftentimes the only women you see are “Booth Babes,” it was nice to see a woman, a college student nonetheless, take the spotlight to talk about her solid contributions to the tech space.

But now back to the innovation.

While some might say that this is a futile attempt to correct the issue of civil nonchalance that characterizes most of this country, the vast majority of StartupCamp5 attendees felt this had much promise, as did I. There is something so intrinsically simple yet brilliant about this idea. Take individuals who care about politics and give them the chance to get a hold of politicians through platforms they are accustomed to using every day –Twitter and video conferencing. And, in so doing, maybe get a couple of people who are politically indifferent to join in on the fun and in the process become informed citizens.

Perhaps most importantly, Townhall 140 allows politicians and citizens to connect at a time when many feel that “those in charge” are not listening.

So does it matter that Monica didn’t win the Startup Camp vote? Does it matter that perhaps the vote was swayed as the audience was LARGELY made up of men – and maybe some men who are still a little backwards in their thinking? Not at all.

Monica and her team aren’t going anywhere and with an election looming, I encourage you to keep your eyes on these Harvard students because I assure you, they will blow it out of the park.




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