FiscalNote Changes Corporate Government Risk Management

As a tech savvy teenager, Tim Hwang began changing how information influenced American politics and business-government relations. In 2012, his programs helped Barack Obama win the Iowa caucus. In 2013, as college students, Tim Hwang, Gerald Yao and Jonathan Chen formed FiscalNote headquartered in Washington, D.C.  FiscalNote was created to accommodate contracting the services of his new data seeking and data crunching applications. Even as a small startup, FiscalNote attracted the attention of some high profile venture capitalists. Most recently FiscalNote received ten million in a Series C round in 2016 and ten million in a Series B round in 2015.

FiscalNote, a university startup from Emory University, Princeton University and the University of Maryland, is combining computerized data collection methods with the analyzing power of artificial intelligence to produce applications that greatly increase a company’s return on its investments in governmental tracking. The java programs work faster and cheaper than beltway law firms and lobbyists so the effect of this new start up is likely to be enormous.

This start up can be understood as another example of technocrats converting expensive services from the purview of a mass of costly labor intensive experts to the relatively inexpensive realm of the shared economy. Retainers to well-heeled government trackers may become a thing of the past as this university startup demonstrates its power to identify relevant activity within the federal and state governments and its powerful ability to predict the fate of proposed legislation and regulations.

It is not surprising that this technological solution to the huge demand for governmental information arose in a university setting with their combination of technological resources, student and professor entrepreneurs, and existing knowledge about national and local governments and how they work. In 2013 the University of Maryland contributed to a FiscalNote seed fund drive.

While FiscalNote CEO Tim Hwang acknowledges that there are still a multitude of political “Black Swans” occurring, he believes that the information technology that underlies FiscalNote is second to none and it makes government information accessible, transparent, and actionable.

FiscalNote has produced three information analysis tools to date:  FiscalNote Prophecy, FiscalNote Sonar (focused on tracking the federal government), and FiscalNote Atlantis. So far, FiscalNote has focused on American government risks to business; however, it is currently planning to expand into assessing governmental risks to business overseas in Europe and Asia.

Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, demand for FiscalNote services has been growing particularly fast in the health care field. FiscalNote’s success to date is in large part a measure of its ability to produce finished, market ready products that have been successfully employed by large corporate clients.

University Technologies Search

Finding technologies that are born and developed at US universities is often a challenge.  Sometimes entrepreneurs and investment groups seek out technologies from universities to commercialize.  Their first avenue of locating these technologies might be searching through university websites.  Most universities have some mention of available technologies.  One problem with this direction is that the list may be incomplete or unimpressive.

Why would this be?  While speaking with Gerard Eldering, President of InnovateTech Ventures and former technology transfer director, he concluded the following:

  • The Technology Transfer Office has not filed patents on the technology yet – The process of preparing a filing a patent application in a TTO can take many months. They may be willing to discuss a technology with you under an NDA, but won’t publish the technology until the patent application is filed.
  • They have not prepared good marketing material on the technology yet – This was the case with all of the technologies I recently looked at. It takes a considerable amount of effort to put together a good marketing package and iterate with the inventor. Many TTOs are understaffed and can get behind on these tasks.
  • They don’t want everyone to know about their best technologies – Yes, you heard me right, they might be holding back. But if they post a high potential technology on their website or a national database, they are going to get calls from all manner of prospective licensees including many unqualified. Furthermore they may have some specific licensing targets they want to approach before putting it out to the broader market.

Therefore, entrepreneurs and investors need to keep this in mind when looking for university technologies. Don’t expect to find the best technologies posted in public view.  Finding these technologies means going beyond a web search at the TTO website.   It may require contacting and establishing a relationship with the TTO.  Another avenue is working with a venture creation firm that already has the relationship established.