By Ellen McGirt
November 7, 2016

Hispanic voters living in key states—Arizona, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Nevada—surged to cast their ballots early this weekend, buoying the hopes of the Clinton campaign. “[T]he evidence from polling and the early voting turnout seemed to indicate [Donald Trump] was facing the possibility of sweeping losses in states with sizable Hispanic populations, most likely affected by the racially tinged language he has used since beginning his campaign over 16 months ago,” reports the New York Times.

None of this surprises Dr. Ximena Hartsock, the co-founder of Phone2Action, a rapidly growing and profitable technology company that helps companies, trade associations, and non-profits launch advocacy campaigns that connect voters with lawmakers. “The sleeping giant woke up,” she says of the Hispanic turnout.

“We saw a huge spike in voter registration in our mobile app on National Voter registration day on September 27th,” she says. The effort then shifted to get people to the polls early: “Texting is the most popular activity on mobile for Hispanic consumers—they have a 98% open rate—which make it the perfect weapon for ‘get out the vote.’”

(To see their tool in action, text VOTA to 40649. Information about polling locations and candidates will pop up with an encouraging message: Vamos a votar en esta elección!)

That people are surprised is a big part of the problem, she says. “There is this perception that low-income Latino voters, particularly parents, don’t use technology much at all, but especially not to organize and get informed,” she says. “That is completely untrue.”

Not only are these voters enthusiastic early adopters of tech and social tools, she says, “they’re policy savvy, and are digesting information about issues and candidates to use it for the good of their communities.” The alarming rhetoric about wall-building and immigration has gotten the attention of Hispanic voters. “For Latinos, this election is not partisan,” she says. “It’s personal.”

The Chilean-born Hartsock took an unusual route to tech entrepreneurship. For one, she’s a trained philosopher-educator. “I wanted to teach philosophy in high school in Chile,” she says, “but the U.S. is really a better ecosystem and culture for working women.” She continued her graduate work in the U.S. and ended up in school administration, working in underserved schools in Washington, D.C. That was when she had her first big insight.

“I was the principal of the Ross Elementary School when the iPhone first came out,” she recalls. The school primarily serves low-income African American and Latinx families. “Most of the parents got one right away, and were super excited about what it meant for the future,” she says.

The parents were also keenly aware of the disconnect between how their kids were being taught and the skills that the workplace now requires. “We’re teaching kids the same way we were 20 years ago,” she says. Parents may not know what to do about it, but they know that the same old schooling isn’t going to help their kids succeed as adults. “That one hour of code thing?” she says. “They know it’s not enough.”

It was the first of many insights that set Hartsock on a path of entrepreneurship, system change, and venture capital. Click through for her whole story.


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