Newly minted TechStar Voatz goes to Washington

By SHELAGH BRALEY

BOSTON—Blockchain innovator Voatz, fresh off its induction to TechStars Boston program last week, is on its way to shake hands and canvass for support in Washington, D.C.

Co-founder Nimit Sawhney, on his way to the capitol this morning, said TechStars has already made a great impact on his team—making introductions and setting meetings for new potential projects.

“The connections and the network are really unbelievable,” Sawhney said. “Right now, we’re focusing on the political side, trying to do as many pilots with as many local and state government bodies as we can, and political parties with internal elections, too, that’s the focus. TechStars is helping us with that.”

Voatz, the open-source blockchain platform designed for secure, high-volume voting by smartphone, successfully completed its beta with the Massachusetts Democratic primary at the convention, among others, and now, Sawhney says, “They’ve started using it for all of the upcoming elections.” The benefit of smartphone voting, he has said in previous interview with FoundersWire: Making sure every voter feels like his or her vote counts. “Whether it’s for good reason, or just based on people’s perception, having technology that can address … those worries independently: That’s the power of Voatz.”

Voatz also announced yesterday a major partnership with Clear Ballot Group, Inc., to accelerate the introduction of secure remote voting. Clear Ballot, a leader in voting technology and election management innovation, has helped the Voatz team invaluably with real-world voting applications, Sawhney says.

“(Founder and CEO Larry Moore) is an experienced provider of election solutions,” Sawhney says. “He’s also been very interested in looking at blockchain. He has helped us to understand how real elections are conducted by governments. The partnership is about taking it to the next level, where not only do we want to do the mobile side of voting on blockchain, but also even scanning of the paper ballots.

Blockchain for voting results is crucial, Sawhney says, to make elections tamper-proof, and to keep results clean. “Say in the secretary of state’s office, when they transfer the files, it may have human error, say they didn’t zip the files correctly and they’re not secure,” Sawhney says. “Errors or tampering can be quickly identified and corrected if there’s a secure copy on the blockchain. All the votes are safe. That’s the idea, between us in the partnership, to explore possible uses in the real world.”

Meanwhile, Sawhney himself is hitting the campaign trail to meet some major entrepreneur-friendly connections.

“We’re in D.C. this week setting up a bunch of meetings and following up on those,” Sawhney says. “I don’t know how soon we’ll be able to get traction in terms of number of people using (the platform), but TechStars is definitely helping us open doors at a rapid pace.”

One of the doors opening is that of Jared Polis (D-Colo.), a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Colorado’s 2nd District. A Princeton grad with a long history of public service, Polis served previously on the state Board of Education. But he’s best known as the serial entrepreneur who co-founded American Information Systems (AIS), an early internet access provider, as well as BlueMountain.com, a digital greeting card company, and online florist ProFlowers, which went public in 2003.

The most prescient fact about Polis for Voatz, however, is that he co-founded TechStars in 2006, and the congressman is passionate about technology being used for the greater good. Polis in September launched the first bipartisan congressional blockchain caucus, where lawmakers will focus on learning more about blockchain-based technology and digital currencies.

Ty Danco is working with us, and so we got connected with (Polis), and now we are meeting his staff. They are really excited to know something is happening in blockchain outside of fintech,” Sawhney says. “We’ll see how it goes, but maybe they can help us with Colorado and Arizona, and maybe look at some grants. That’s the plan, we’ll see how that goes.”

When he returns, he and his team of three will work out of the TechStars space at the CIC, until May. “After that, we’ll figure out where we’ll go,” Sawhney says.

That time frame coincides with Demo Day, after which he predicts Voatz’s first significant raise. “Prior to this, we didn’t have any external investment, we’ve been funding through the hackathons we’ve won.” He says the $120,000 from TechStars is a big boost for them now.

“But by May, we’ll raise a formal equity round at that point, and we’ll be in a good position to implement all the projects coming our way.”