Emily Baum, Managing Director of Reboot Democracy
“I’m someone who likes to have their brain stretched. To think in many different worlds and see how it makes everything more interesting.”
Meet Emily Baum. Emily is the Managing Director of Reboot Democracy, whose mission is to “bring innovators in technology and politics together; to spur the development of tools that will revolutionize our democratic system.”
Degrees in both musical theater and neuroscience from USC provide Emily with proof points of her ability to think with both left and right hemispheres of her brain. Emily attended The MMM Program at Northwestern University, graduating in 2013 with a Masters of Engineering from the McCormick School of Engineering, an MBA from The Kellogg School of Management, and a certificate in Design Thinking & Innovation from the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University. Emily has also served as a design thinking and lean coach/mentor for the Citrix Innovators Program at the Citrix Startup Accelerator, co-creating Citrix’s 12-week accelerator program.
She is also CEO and founder of Keyrious, a luxury wearable tech startup, which is currently backburnered because of more pressing matters, like saving our democracy. Finally, Emily is a Tenor 1 and the token “real girl” singer of the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. You can connect with her on Twitter.
What Does She Do?
Exactly a year ago this December, Reboot held its first hackathon. Seventeen projects came out of that weekend and sparked Emily to consider how Reboot might evolve. The following month Reboot participants regrouped, with the second half of its event including lightning talks and a Q and A on voting tech.
Between both events, Reboot found its voice as a convener and community builder. “That model is what we keep doing: Experts hear from innovators and vice versa, enabling cross-pollination. In that way, we realized our mission of helping people who are building the future: offering exposure to innovators; creating that connection point.” Emily recognizes that Reboot has to take risks: “We have to admit that we don’t know what the answer is now. And that funding the unknown is scary for people.”
At this point, Emily volunteers that “I am the person driving the boat forward but there’s a lot of help along the way.” Some thirty people are donating their time to help build out an ecosystem of support for early-stage democracy tech entrepreneurs.
Unlike other accelerators, Reboot “takes all comers, non-profit, for-profit. We want anyone who is leveraging tech to strengthen democracy in any way – early stage, even later — to make a connection.”
How Did She Get Into This Work?
Emily comes from a long line of entrepreneurs— both traditional and… unorthodox. While her father’s side of the family came the old-fashioned way — escaping the pogroms to initially settle and open businesses in Kansas City, her maternal great-grandfather was a bootlegger.
While she wouldn’t have cast it as “civic engagement,” Emily remembers starting a club during her elementary years, gathering her classmates in her basement around an easel chalkboard, gamifying competition to see who could pick up the most trash in the forest.
Growing up in Chicago to two Ph.D.’s, her father was an analytical chemist, while her mother was an immunologist dedicating her entire career to HIV/AIDS research. During grade school, Emily’s math aptitude shone, and enabled her to jump three grades. While her mother struggled to be recognized as a scientist – being the Ginger Rogers of the petri dish — perhaps, because of this external validation, Emily never experienced gendered math anxiety: “I took multivariable calculus in 12th grade, so I never doubted how smart I was.”
When Emily learned that a friend had joined the New York Gay Men’s Chorus, she decided that she wanted to try out. At her audition, the director warned, “You know you’re crazy right?” And she became part of the Chorus.
Emily matriculated at Kellogg’s dual degree program in 2011, determined to learn how to build a startup: “I’m someone who likes to have their brain stretched. To think in many different worlds and see how it makes everything more interesting. I also wanted a program that forced me to go down the deeper analytic paths.”
After completing her studies, Emily moved to the Bay Area where, apart from launching her startup, Keyrious, she became the Managing Director of Girls in Tech, Inc.
As with many of Civic Hall’s newest members, the election outcome made her redraw her priorities: “I was canvassing for HRC in Reno watching the returns come in and realized that I needed to get more directly involved. What I thought was “handled” clearly wasn’t (not based just on the outcome, but also on the level of surprise surrounding the outcome). I started researching the best possible way to put my skills/background in innovation and business to use to improve the situation.” Emily has been on all sides of the funding conversation — as a company founder, a coach to startups, and now directing funding herself as Managing Director of Reboot.
What Project(s) Is S/he Working On?
Emily is the Managing Director of Reboot Democracy, now a fiscally sponsored project of Harmony Labs.
When Emily reconnected with participants from her December 2016 hackathon she wanted to find a place – an accelerator – to plug them in, but she found that [accelerators] everywhere were incredibly narrowly focused. “Folks were working on clean energy, media, or non-profits, not more broadly. Democracy is not a niche. It’s a very wide umbrella that encompasses a lot of things. Our hypothesis is that having people who are working to attack problems from different angles, this enables everyone to do a better job.”
How Did She Come to Civic Hall?
Emily first met Friend of Civic Hall Bob Fertik at Deepak Puri’s DemLabs gathering in San Francisco last year, and he introduced her to the concept of Civic Hall. It wasn’t until Emily was at the Arena Summit in Raleigh, however, where she met Danielle Lee Tomson who closed the loop and took Emily by the hand to Civic Hall.
That led to Emily packing up and moving back to the East Coast, to become part of the Civic Hall community. While she felt fluent in all things innovation and business, despite canvassing in swing states for Hillary she felt green where “civic experience” was concerned and looked to Civic Hall to deepen her understanding so that she could grow the democracy tech ecosystem.
What Is Her Ask of Civic Hall?
Reboot Democracy is in the midst of fundraising. Yes, it’s that time of the year! For 2018 Emily hopes to continue building community while doing a better job at being diverse and inclusive. To that end, she is committed to making access to the community available to all: “We’ll never have a ticket price as a cost. While there will always be a donation option, I remember as a startup founder myself that there was a time I couldn’t have gone [to an event] if it was $10.” Additionally, this also means reaching other parts of the country — convening not just in NYC, Chicago, and San Francisco, but in smaller cities and rural areas. Beyond that, funding will enable Reboot to launch an accelerator based on the 12-week program that Emily co-created for Citrix’s Innovators Program.
“If you know of someone building technology that will strengthen democracy – introduce us! And, of course, we are in need of financial support. Tax-deductible donations can be made here.
Finally, get your tickets to see NYCGMC Holiday Slay! Bears, Twinks, and Sugar Plum Fairies, the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus Christmas concert.