While the rest of us go about our business, Congress is making decisions and voting on bills that could change our lives and the lives of our businesses. BillTrack50 wants to open up that world to public view.
At its core, the Denver startup offers a database of bills with information on their progress through federal and state governments. Users can also get alerts on new bills, based on their past searches. This is all similar to state databases like TrakBill (aimed at small businesses) and CQ’s StateTrack.
But founder Karen Suhaka wants to deliver more than just information: with private discussions and rankings of state representatives, she is building a tool for action. Below, she explains why.
Tech Cocktail: Why are you interested in making government data useful to citizens?
Karen Suhaka: We are a representative democracy. Voting is great, and we should all do it if we are informed about the issue, but that's not enough. We owe our representatives the benefit of our knowledge, experience, and ideas. I think there are lots of smart people in our country, and somewhere someone has a good idea about every challenge we face. I want to get those people informed, and connected, to build a better country for everyone.
Tech Cocktail: How might startups or entrepreneurs use your website?
Suhaka: Startups and entreprenuers in heavily regulated industries should, of course, try to stay updated on major changes to laws that might impact their business. One law can easily make or destroy opportunities across whole sectors of an industry. Large companies have entire government affairs teams to try to stay on top of this stuff. New and small companies should at least do a periodic search to stay informed, since generally substantial changes to the landscape favor the small and nimble — as long as they know about them.
Tech Cocktail: What is your goal with BillTrack50? Once people know the legislation, what can they do?
Suhaka: I want people to learn about their representatives so they can vote appropriately. I also want them to reach out to their representatives, when there is an issue at hand that they particularly know and/or care about. I want people to tweet and Facebook and blog bills they care about, and otherwise form groups of concerned citizens, and get out there and participate in the legislative process. Our government is ours, and as technology helps us all get more connected, and government gets more transparent, we all have the opportunity (and, I think, responsibility) to engage. The SOPA/PIPA fight showed us all we still do have the power.
BillTrack50 was a showcased startup at our Tech Cocktail Denver mixer.