SpeakEasy Spotlight: Betsy Hoover, Higher Ground Labs

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SpeakEasy Spotlight: Betsy Hoover, Higher Ground Labs

Here at SpeakEaasy, we’re all about using technology to amplify down-ballot candidates and causes. Our SpeakEasy Spotlight series features some of our favorite leaders and entrepreneurs in the down-ballot political space. We’re proud to work alongside other innovators who are using technology to empower more Democrats to run for office – and win. Keep reading for our interview with Betsy Hoover about the future of campaigning, innovations for down-ballot races, and how to stay grounded in our tumultuous political climate.

Name: Betsy Hoover

Company: Higher Ground Labs

Current city: Oakland, CA


Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I am a co-founder and partner at Higher Ground Labs, an incubator and accelerator for political technology. We invest in companies that are building a demonstrated need in politics and then work closely with founders to help them enter the political market. Higher Ground Labs started in 2017 and is proud to invest in companies like SpeakEasy!


How did you become interested in politics and civic engagement?

Civic engagement has been a passion of mine since childhood. I believed strongly in the power of participation and found energy in helping people connect with their community. Engagement felt like a way to give agency – and that felt like power. I graduated from college hoping to find a way to be an organizer, but thought campaigning was too political. But Barack Obama – a community organizer – running for President changed my tune. I jumped on the campaign in early 2007 in South Carolina and the rest is history.


Can you tell us a little bit about how Higher Ground Labs is supporting down-ballot or first-time candidates running for office?

We believe strongly in the power technology can bring to down-ballot campaigns. Currently run on spreadsheets and phone trees, we are constantly looking for innovation focused on small campaigns and new markets. Higher Ground Labs has partnered with the DLCC, Run for Something, Arena and other organizations working with down-ballot candidates to understand the needs and build trust with practitioners working in those campaigns.


How do you expect the state of political tech and innovation to change post-2020 due to COVID-19?

Progressive campaigns have been increasing their use of technology and digital over the past 10 years  – a long, slow adoption process. In 2020, our industry jumped forward 10 years in a matter of months. Campaigns went virtual, relying heavily on their tech stack for core program work. This sped up the adoption of new technology, powering more virtual strategy and programs in political campaigns. 

After this cycle, we expect to see a surge of innovation, led by those who are currently doing work on the ground and are experiencing gaps in technology firsthand. Higher Ground Labs is excited to invest in some of these solutions in 2021. But we also expect a number of mergers, acquisitions, and pivots within the industry as companies figure out their most sustainable path forward. 


Critical to all of this, I expect to see practitioners continue to embrace technology in the programs they build for 2021 and beyond. Our technology is only as good as it is useful to the strategists building programs on the ground. The team at HGL is excited to continue partnering with campaigns and progressive organizations to build technology that makes campaigning easier.


What’s your favorite book/article/podcast/documentary you’ve seen recently about political trends or innovations in politics?

I will take this time to shamelessly plug our landscape analysis! HGL puts this out every year to highlight key changes and trends in the political tech space. You can access our 2019 report here


Do you have any tips for first-time candidates or campaign managers in down-ballot races?

I have never run for office so I am not sure I have tips for candidates. But I do have a message: It takes a lot of courage to choose to do what you are doing – and our country needs you right now more than ever. Thanks for standing up and please keep fighting. Don’t be afraid to keep taking risks, trying new things, and pushing the envelope. That’s the only way change actually happens. 


And to the first time campaign managers – you got this. You are almost there.  Stick with it. Be decisive. Be authentic. Ask for help when you need it. 


What is keeping you grounded this election cycle?

Two things. First, our founders. It is an honor to get to work with such a creative, driven, smart group of people every day. You can learn more about our portfolio here. If you aren’t working with some of them yet, you should. 


Second is the constant reminders of what is at stake. The state of the world and our country is maddening. The lack of leadership at a time of such profound despair is deflating. But the reason we do this work has never been clearer. We are fighting for the people we love, the communities we share, and the country we are still struggling to realize.  On my best days, this drives my work. 85 days to go!

Thanks again to Betsy for chatting with us about powering down-ballot and first-time candidates and campaigns! For more from Higher Ground Labs, be sure connect with them on Twitter or sign up for their newsletter.  For more digital tips and tricks on running for office, check out our e-books and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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