ELECTORAL fever in the US has provided Cork start-up firm, Vconnecta, with a ready market for an innovative canvassing-and-voter management software product, called e-canvasser.
Customers include congressional campaign organisers, candidates running for elected offices (such as sheriff, mayor, judge), and for positions on school bodies and local councils.
“We have now sold to 590 campaigns in countries which included the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Austria, as well as the US and Canada, which are our largest markets, accounting for 90% of revenues,’’ said company founder and CEO Brendan Finucane.
The US represents a vast opportunity for Vconnecta. Although global media attention might be focused on the presidential campaign, Mr. Finucane says that this is just one of many elections across the US.
“The US has one million campaigns over a four-to-five year period and it has in the region of half a million elected representatives,” says Mr Finucane.
He also says that while many US-based companies target the high-profile campaigns, Vconnecta is selling to candidates contesting smaller races.
The company also sells to non-governmental agencies and community groups, which are pursuing issue-based agendas rather than political ones.
Having gone to market with a product specifically designed for political campaigns, Vconnecta has identified demand from local government agencies involved in public consultation.
Customers include Hamilton City Council, which is using the software to consult with 1,000 residents about proposed changes in a railway line.
The demand is such that Vconnecta has developed a separate product, Civus Connect, which is being launched in November.
Says Mr. Finucane: “This offers a much larger market opportunity than political campaigns — every local government agency in the world engages in public consultation. As demand is consistent and not dependent on election campaigns, it offers a more stable revenue model.”
Next month, the company expects to conclude a €750,000 funding round, which will allow it to employ additional staff and develop sales in other English-speaking markets.
“We aim to grow our staff size from ten up to 17 in 2017, and are targeting a turnover of over €1m by 2018.”
The first version of e-canvasser was developed by Mr. Finucane as his final year project for a business information systems course at UCC, in 2012.
Out on a canvass that year, he realised that the smartphones the canvassers were carrying in their pockets would be more efficient than the traditional pen and clipboard.
His solution was an app that connects canvassers to campaign headquarters and is used to organise the canvass and also to collect and analyse data.
The upgraded model, launched this year, offers a wide range of functions, including identifying voter issues, identifying swing voters, and predicting election outcomes.
Establishing Vconnecta in 2012, Mr. Finucane signed up for the Ignite start-up programme, in UCC, and raised €150,000 in angel funding, which allowed him to take on his first employee.
Launching in 2014, Vconnecta found the Irish market fairly unreceptive. During 2015, it redeveloped the product for international sale and set its sights on the US market.
Recognised as a high-potential start-up by Enterprise Ireland last year, it also raised a further €500,000.
Since January this year, the solution has been selling on ecanvasser.com, on an SAAS basis, charging $49 monthly for use with 10,000 voters, and up to $2,000 monthly for customers with 500,000 voters.
The company uses digital marketing and search-engine optimisation — as well as blogs — to reach its target markets.