(Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of profiles about the startups competing in the fourth installment of the ARK Challenge accelerator, underway in downtown Little Rock. 'ARK 4' will culminate in its Demo Day, scheduled for Nov. 12 at the Clinton Center, where startups pitch their final products for a chance to win $150,000 in additional investment. The series began with Little Rock ventures My Color of Beauty, Acorn Hours, Tagless and Eatiply, founded in Minneapolis. Stepping up to the plate is Politapoll of Rogers.)
Justyn Hornor always had an entrepreneurial streak in him. The Lowell native launched his own Gospel record label in 2001, sold it in 2006 and went back to school.
He joined the Army to pay for it, and a year into law school at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, was recruited to be a lobbyist for disabled veterans. While on drill with the Arkansas Army National Guard, Hornor was injured and spent the next couple of years undergoing chemotherapy, confined mostly to his home.
That confinement triggered his entrepreneurial bent. Hornor completed a master's degree in information systems online, taught himself to write software, and joined his childhood buddy Tim Brasuell to launch Politapoll, a tool that polls citizens and tracks legislative votes regarding specific legislation.
Hornor, who finished his chemotherapy this past March, said his experience as a lobbyist made him realize how most citizen advocacy groups are ineffective because of a lack of resources.
"We want to bring advocacy groups together and help them form alliances," Hornor said. "Our app is the interface that keeps citizens and legislators connected."
Hornor stresses baby steps over swinging for the fences: the importance of piling up small wins that lead to big change. He thinks Politapoll can help achieve that as a tool for both citizens and legislators.
"Our mission is first and foremost to serve American citizens, but if we don't also empower legislatures to understand the needs of their constituents, then the system becomes one-sided," he said. "We create tools for citizens to engage with their legislatures and tools for legislatures to understand what constituents want as well as the ability for a dialogue between constituents and legislatures."
Politapoll enables citizens to tell their legislators exactly where they fall on specific issues and also provides a legislative report card to constituents. Hornor said Politapoll has five goals:
- Improve the engagement of citizens with their legislatures
- Give citizens a series of tools for influencing legislation
- Publish nonpartisan language in all our polls
- Empower legislatures to dramatically increase the amount of legislation aimed at improving the lives of citizens
- Reduce the polarization of partisanship in Congress – both federally and at the state level.
Hornor stresses the nonpartisanship of Politapoll. He and Brasuell are stauch independents, and all legislative language appearing on the site is vetted by partisan groups on both sides of the aisle.
Politapoll features a nonprofit model that polls data for users and as well as a for-profit model that provides polling and data analysis.
Politapoll is starting with local issues with a goal of expanding nationally. For now, Hornor is focused on giving a voice to those groups -- like the disabled veterans groups he used to represent -- that effectively have no voice.
"We want to sit down with advocacy groups and figure out what they're trying to accomplish and match them with groups with similar goals," he said. "Most of the time, groups with similar goals can work together to accomplish much more."