When Horace Williams left his executive position at Oracle, he wanted to create something that could have a huge impact on his community. The New York-native began developing his own platform focused on civic engagement in 2013 and Empowrd was born.
Empowrd is based in Atlanta where the startup scene is taking off for Black entrepreneurs. Williams said the city has become communal space for Black founders and many leaders are leaning on each other to foster success.
Empowrd is an app for individuals and organizations to stay informed and to motivate political action. Users can access news, contact elected officials and find ways to get engaged within their communities.
Organizations use the app to conduct surveys on their constituents, build partnerships with influencers and political leaders, and access data analytics.
AfroTech had a chance to chat with Williams about Empowrd and the problem he’s trying to solve using tech.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did you come up with the idea for Empwrd?
I’m a big guy — about 6’3′, just around 290 pounds. When I was a kid, I was around Trayvon Martin’s size so his story just kind of resonated with me. The outcome of that entire case and trial led me to want to dig deeper and identify who was accountable for this.
As a result, I just did my own personal study and looked into the decision makers and just saw how the local landscape of political leaders was involved — how many were involved, either directly or indirectly.
I identified two things. One is that we have a lot of local elected officials that represent us that we’re not aware of, whether it’s in regards to their role or just their existence.
The other side of that was how disengaged we are as a community from those local elected officials and how in many cases we don’t engage them for the first time until adversity strikes. The biases never really lean in our direction. It awakened a passion in me. I wanted to create something that, at minimum, provides some transparency into who these people are, what they do, and which ones represent me.
It was enough passion for me to leave Oracle and go ahead and start Empowrd.
What initiatives has Empowrd launched around political races?
There’s already enough investment and time spent in getting people engaged during campaign season.
Our goal, our hope, and our vision is that people start to transition from just thinking that voting is a core part of civic engagement. The next shift has to be what we do with these folks once they are elected to office, how we engage them and positioning people to engage them effectively. Even now during legislative sessions, you’re starting to see people post more on bills and things like that. I think it’s heading in the direction that we want folks to go in. Your vote is your leverage, use it. But, start actually holding folks accountable. We hope that the increased attention across the campaign increases the transparency of what they do when they’re in office.
Are the names of elected officials curated manually or through automation?
Empowrd actually manages our own elected data set of about 15,000 elected leaders. When we first started, we weren’t finding the kind of data that we wanted to, at least not in a way that was easily consumable for people. We have about 10 data points across each elected official including their next election day, their office phone number, their e-mail — all of that.
We built our own data management platform which actually helps automate the process of updating those elected leaders. It also informs us of when we need to make updates on our app.
How can organizations utilize Empowrd?
They can conduct surveys and send content. They mostly use it for mobilization. Because we’ve got elected official data and we have local jurisdictions of all our members, if an organization sends out to 2,000 notifications, people on the receiving end will see their respective elected leaders based on the call to action.
What’s the tech scene like in Atlanta? What made you want to set up shop there, as opposed to say, Silicon Valley?
When I left Oracle, I really got into the black tech ecosystem here in Atlanta.
I think what makes the most difference in Atlanta is just the access and peer support. Black founders are fighting the same fight in the same city. Rather than being overly competitive, it’s more like, “I can help you if you can help me.”
Empowrd is available for download on iOS and Android.