University of Minnesota Alumni Association

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Flipping Policy

With his company Civic Eagle, Damola Ogundipe uses technology to democratize political information.

Photo Courtesy: Damola Ogundipe

At the close of 2017, Damola Ogundipe (B.S. ’11) encountered a crossroads.

For nearly three years, Ogundipe had toiled to gain traction with his company Civic Eagle, which used a consumer-facing app to try to counter the political apathy Ogundipe and his cofounders, Yemi Adewunmi and Shawntera Hardy, found so prevalent in state and local matters.

“We wanted to create a world in which political information was easily accessible, and would empower voters and residents to take political action and become more civically engaged,” says Ogundipe, citing the August 2014 police shooting of a Black man named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which sparked widespread social unrest, as a driving force behind Civic Eagle’s launch.

Of course, the best laid—and most noble-minded— plans often run awry. Unable to scale and monetize Civic Eagle, as CEO Ogundipe faced long days, frustrating results, and accelerating pressure to keep a sinking business afloat. “For anybody thinking about doing something like this, I wouldn’t recommend it,” laughs Ogundipe, a Nigerian-born, former Golden Gophers football player who grew up in New Brighton, Minnesota.

So, despite devoting three years of his life and some $60,000 of his own savings to Civic Eagle, a disheartened Ogundipe phoned his cofounders and asked them if they wanted to stop. “And to their credit, they said, ‘No. Let’s see what we can figure out,’” Ogundipe recalls.

With his partners all in, Ogundipe committed as well. He left his full-time job as a consultant and jettisoned anything from his life unrelated to Civic Eagle. That renewed, single-minded focus on the business produced a pivot that has altered Ogundipe’s life, transformed the work of policy professionals, and supercharged his upstart venture’s prospects. “Being an entrepreneur is about being a bit naïve, a bit fearless,” says Ogundipe, an entrepreneurial soul who launched a sneaker resale business as an undergraduate finance major before heading a company that converted shipping containers into music production studios. 

In January 2018, Civic Eagle, spurred by a conversation held during a lengthy pizza-and-wine gathering with two Twin Cities advocacy organizations and a local law firm, ditched its consumer focus. The founders began developing a new product called Enview, designed to help businesses, nonprofits, and advocacy groups and organizations discover, track, and analyze legislative and political information to guide decision making and propel performance.

“We tend to build solutions for problems that we have and that’s too limiting,” Ogundipe says. “The real opportunity for us was on the business-to-business side and that’s the direction we’ve been running in ever since.” Today, Civic Eagle scrapes data from every legislative database in the country. It then processes that legislative and regulatory information into its own database before providing daily analysis on it to a diverse client list that includes think tanks, corporations like Comcast, law firms such as Minneapolis-based Fredrikson & Byron, and nonprofits like March of Dimes, the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Civic Eagle has now gained traction by injecting technology into legislative research—replacing tedious, grinding manual work with time-saving software—and sparking collaboration among policy professionals who can collectively edit policy text, share comments, and ping other organizations about working together. “We’ve flipped this field on its head,” says Ogundipe.

Investors are taking note, too. While Ogundipe initially struggled to communicate Civic Eagle’s niche software space to investors, his pitch today clearly touts Civic Eagle’s value proposition, as well as its vast marketplace potential. As a result, Civic Eagle has landed $2.6 million in funding to fuel its growth, including the company’s push to develop artificial intelligence and natural-language processing functions.

“It’s still early, but we’ve got the right people and pieces in place for that,” says Ogundipe, whose firm is based in St. Paul but includes team members peppered across the U.S. Within the next eight years, Civic Eagle hopes to top $100 million in revenue and, more importantly, democratize political information to spur sound decision-making—in keeping with its initial intent. Ogundipe believes that will help level the playing field of democracy and provide some of the most important social organizations a fair chance at impacting policy at all levels of government. 

“We’re nonpartisan, but believe democracy only exists when everybody exercises their right to vote and is informed on the issues,” Ogundipe says. “In the end, we want to be a company doing net good for the world.”

With that in mind, on June 2, after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ogundipe posted on the company’s Instagram. He wrote, “As an African-American man and as a human being, I’m mad. I’ve seen firsthand the injustices of the criminal justice system and other structural barriers that impact the forward progress of not only the African-American community, but other disenfranchised communities. … We built Enview to move us towards a country that eliminates these moments [and it] will never be out of reach for even the smallest grassroots organizations [working] to create a more equitable country.”

Daniel P. Smith is a Chicago-based journalist.

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