When then-second-year Alexander Swerdlow launched his company in mid-2017, he was building a conference management platform—making it easier for people who were organizing big events around Chicago. At the same time as Swerdlow was building his platform, millions of people around the country were engaging in large-scale political action events—like the Women’s March and March for Science—and he saw an opportunity to take the tools he was developing and share them with the people working to enact meaningful political change across the country.
That process led to Gather Activism, a digital tool for political activism and engagement that both provides organizers with a platform to manage and recruit activists for their events and shows activists every opportunity to engage in the political process.
“While other industries were flocking to solve problems with technology, we didn’t see that happening with activism,” said Swerdlow, an economics major as well as cofounder and CEO of Gather Activism. “There was this big gap where activists were still standing on street corners and passing out fliers for their events, and handing out paper-based calendars of everything that was coming up, and that seemed ridiculous. If I can order a sandwich on my phone and have it here within 15 minutes, I should absolutely be able to use my phone to find real-life opportunities of how I can engage in the political process.”
The Gather team, made up of undergraduates from UChicago, Northwestern, Boston University, Vanderbilt and the University of Toronto, have been busy since launching their initial platform in September 2017.
In March of this year, Gather partnered with March for Our Lives Chicago to provide digital tools for the organizers to easily track and communicate with activists who signed up to march or volunteer. More than 150,000 activists participated in the event to call for gun reform legislation and Gather played a pivotal role in ensuring that it ran smoothly.
“It was incredible to be part of that movement,” said Marley Rosario, Gather’s director of operations and a second-year in the College. “Being part of the organizing team for an event of that scale showed us that there was an opportunity with Gather to really make a difference in the political world just by providing very simple pieces of technology.”
Gather has been working with the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to expand their startup, going through the College New Venture Challenge in 2017 and making it as a finalist in this year’s John Edwardson, ’72, Social New Venture Challenge. Both the College New Venture Challenge and the Social New Venture Challenge are tracks of the nationally top-ranked university accelerator, the Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge. Gather will continue to build out their business through this summer’s Polsky Accelerator, a 10-week intensive summer program for startups to develop their ventures.
“We couldn’t have done even a quarter of what Gather has been able to accomplish without the Polsky Center,” said Swerdlow. “The resources that are available to students here, especially undergraduates, who want to engage in their own entrepreneurial endeavors are second to none.”