Keya Dannenbaum: The Entrepreneur Behind Elect Next

by Joanne Wilson

Elect Next was one of the winners at Web 2.0 as well as winners at many events since.  I sat down with Keya Dannenbaum, the entrepreneur behind Elect Next and was just as impressed with her as much as I was with what she built. 

Keya grew up in Austin, Texas.  Her parents are both professors of molecular biology as UT Austin.  They both came here from India in 1977 to do their post-graduate work and that is where they met.  Keya left Austin for Stanford to major in international relations.  Taking her junior year abroad in Seville, Spain where she studied Spanish and sangria.  She graduated in 2003 with a Fullbright Scholarship and moved to Bogota Columbia.

In Bogota she worked with a NGO that worked with refugees who were internally displaced due to the armed conflicts throughout the region. She stayed a year and then with her boyfriend (now husband) backpacked around South America for three months.  Instead of moving back to the States, they both took jobs in India and moved to Bombay.  He took a supposedly safe job working for Lehman Bros and Keya worked for a human rights organization focusing on women's rights.  She even wrote a book while she was there about women's legal rights in the workplace with her boyfriend. 

A year was enough and they both enrolled in the Phd program at Princeton in International Politics. After two weeks, she realized it was the wrong program for her but stuck it out.  She spent two years there, got her masters and then went to work on Hilary Clintons campaign in 2008. Keya moved out to Los Angeles for a year working on the campaign finance end while her husband went to Yale to get his law degree.  After the election, Keya moved to New Haven to be with Tom.

In New Haven she got pulled back into politics.  She ended up running the campaign for the mayor of New Haven, John DeStefano.  It was an incredible experience because it is such a different angle being local.  You get to interface with real people every day.  Believe it or not, after this experience, Keya went to Wharton to get her MBA.  I kept giving her a hard time about how over educated she is. 

At Wharton she got so wrapped up in everything she had just left; then getting to school she realized that she completely forgot to register to vote.  She missed the deadline.  It was then that the idea of Elect Next was formed.  She was taking a class at Wharton where they had to come up with a prototype for a business in one week and then she got such unbelievable feedback and traction on Elect Next she realized she was on to something. 

Keya knew she needed a tech co-founder and literally stalked developers at Penn.  She found Paul Jungwirth, a Phd student and got him on board.  She took a leave of absence at Wharton to pursue building her start-up.  Keya is looking for funding right now.

I am not so sure about the revenue piece of the business although alot of companies would pay for their data but I do love the concept.  Go to Elect Next and check it out.  What is interesting:  people who go through the process of answering the questions and find that the candidate that best aligns with what is important to them isn't who they thought it should be often contact Keya to say the site must be broken.  Now, doesn't that say something.   

image:  NextElect

Joanne Wilson has been blogging since 1994 as Gotham gal  and recently started  The Women's Entrepreneurial Festival affiliated with NYU Wilson is an advisor and investor in startups, including Curbed (Eater/Racked), Food52, Red Stamp, Catchafire, DailyWorth, Editd, Hot Bread Kitchen, Nest.io, Gotham Gym, The Moon Group and MOUSE. Her most successful venture is being married to her best friend Fred and raising her three kids, Jessica, Emily and Josh.  Follow her on Twitter at @thegothamgal

Part of Gotham Gal's Entrepreneur Monday series, this interview has been reposted with permission