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Start-up’s big mission is to disrupt politics with facts

Power Pitch

Facebook (FB), Twitter and YouTube (GOOG) have revolutionized politics by enabling a direct dialogue between politicians and voters.

But despite all the new ways to communicate, political start-up ElectNext believes there’s a big issues information gap and aims to fill it.

CNBC gave ElectNext CEO Keya Dannenbaum 60 seconds to prove how she can inform and engage voters, disrupt politics, and make money while doing it. Click the video above to see if she can sway you to vote IN on ElectNext.

Inform, engage, disrupt

"ElectNext is a political data and technology company on a civic mission, [which for] us has two parts. On the one hand, we want to help the public better understand the issues of the day, and we want to help political actors and decision makers more substantively communicate on those issues to the public," Dannenbaum told CNBC.

The intent to inform is not new. Sites such as PopVox and Ruck.us have a similar mission. What sets ElectNext apart is its distribution strategy. ElectNext is assembling aggregated data from politicians and political groups and packaging it into easy to understand infographics that publishers can embed in articles to provide added value to readers.

Dannenbaum said ElectNext works with a distribution network of 16 publishers, including The Washington Post, The Economist and Hearst, that allow her startup to reach 15 million unique visitors a month.

A graduate of Stanford who got her Ph.D. from Princeton, and was a Fulbright scholar in Colombia and India, Dannenbaum is no stranger to politics. She has experience in both presidential and local campaigns, having worked for Hillary Clinton in 2008 and on the New Haven, Conn., mayoral race.

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Analyzing the data and making money

Helping politicians communicate with the public is the revenue driver. Candidates pay ElectNext a $100 monthly subscription fee to receive alerts and analysis when they appear in an article in the ElectNext network.

"The subscription business comes in the associated product we sell to politicians,” Dannenbaum said. “This is an analytic dashboard through which they can monitor, respond to and amplify their earned media.”

Dannenbaum told CNBC there are more than 200 subscribers, including members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The company plans to expand from state legislatures to national political groups and candidates.

Jon Steinberg, president and chief operating officer of BuzzFeed, which recently launched BuzzFeed Politics, was concerned with the overall strategy of ElectNext’s not being its own destination.

"I like the idea a lot,” he said. “I think there's a big opportunity for data to drive reporting, but I don't like the idea that they're distributing on other publishers. I think the opportunity in media right now is to drop these slow-moving traditional publishers, and putting your fate in their hands is exactly the opposite of what I think she should be doing."

Power Pitch Panelist Chris Schroeder, former CEO to Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, knows how hard it is to change an established media and agreed with Steinberg's assessment.

"I think there's an amazing opportunity for her and no one is moving fast enough to capitalize on this, but everything she's doing in the sales cycle is a head wind,” said Schroeder. “Politics is a terrible place to try to make money over a period of time, and the publishers could be interesting, but they will move very, very slowly.”

Dannenbaum agrees she has a long uphill climb.

"Our North Star with this company is to build products that help inform and engage the public,” she said. “If we can achieve that through prolific distribution and across political news as well as eventually being our own destination site and mobile app—as some of the judges in the Power Pitch suggested—then that is exactly what we want to achieve.”

ElectNext was founded in 2011 and so far has raised $1.3 million dollars from Comcast Ventures, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Watch Dannenbaum’s Power Pitch and see how the panelists voted. The panel included CNBC host Mandy Drury @MandyCNBC, “Startup Rising” author Chris Schroeder @cmschroed, and Buzzfeed President and COO Jon Steinberg @JonSteinberg.

--Additional reporting by Joanna Weinstein

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