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Son of Democratic Donor Starts Up Alleged Nonsense Company

Henry Elkus / Twitter
• April 18, 2016 4:10 pm

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A mysterious start-up called Helena with a 20-year-old CEO, whose father is a wealthy Democratic Party donor, appears to not really do anything, Gawker reports.

Helena describes itself as "an organization of thirty global influencers who work together to achieve positive world impact." In a PDF deck promoting Helena, one slide reads that it "collaborates to create breakthrough ideas, then leverages its collective reach, strategic partnerships, and network to make them happen."

Its CEO, Henry Elkus, is a Yale undergraduate. His father is Bill Elkus, a successful venture capitalist who donated $1,000 to Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2007 and later $5,000 to the Obama victory fund in 2008. Elkus also donated $10,000 in 2000 to the Natural Law Party, a now nationally defunct party that espoused the use of transcendental meditation to address political problems.

Gawker writer Sam Biddle described his strange odyssey to figure out just what this company does in a humorous article:

A company’s purpose doesn’t have to be good, but there ought to be one, some understandable function, some definite activity of some kind, somewhere. I’ve covered startups on and off for a few years now, and have never found one that’s so apparently ineffable, whose explanation is so completely impossible. Even the founder of an app that did nothing but send its user a notification that said "Yo" over and over was willing to talk at length about his venture. Finding someone to tell me even the most basic concrete facts about Helena has been impossible.

On page 11 of the pitch deck, Helena is described as "a unique venture" that’s been "created to spearhead the next generation of thought," and that is "amassing perhaps the strongest representation of world leaders under 25 for an organization of its kind."

Nice, I love unique ventures, and you can bet Selena Gomez and the other world leaders under 25 do too. But how does it work?

That, too, was not clear, as Biddle illustrated with a screenshot of more corporate-speak about "digital interaction," "curated ideas, catalyzed by expert presenters," "leveraged member influence," and "external partnerships."

The "global influencers" on Helena's roster range include singer Selena Gomez, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Hollywood producer Brian Grazer, actress Chloë Grace Moretz and alternative medicine figure Deepak Chopra. But, some of them were unaware they were connected with the organization and even less sure of what it actually does:

My email to Jennifer McCrea about her role in the company was met with confusion: "This is Ariel, one of Jennifer’s business partners. I just checked with her and there is no connection. It must be a different Jennifer McCrea."

Over email, I asked Selena Gomez’s publicist if she could explain her client’s role with Helena, to which she responded "I’ve never heard of this. What exactly is it?" I was not even close to prepared to answer that question. I tried to explain what Helena is, but because I do not know what Helena is, had trouble. "What exactly is it? Do you have a link for the site?," the publicist asked. "I am trying to look into this and not having much luck as no one seems to be aware of it." A dead end.

I asked Casey Neistat, cited as a member of Helena’s "brain trust," about his role in the company. He answered only "not sure," to which I replied "you’re not sure if you’re part of it or you’re not sure what it is or both." He wasn’t even sure what it is.

[…]

A rep for Moretz was puzzled: "She is involved," her publicist told me over email. "Trying to find out how." Nothing further yet.

One of the members of the "Brain Trust" is Robert Shrum, described on Helena's website as the "most sought-after consultatant [sic] in the Democratic Party."

Biddle did eventually get a public relations figure with Helena to describe what the company actually does.

"It’s a non-profit organization that brings together a mixture of under-25 millennials that are accomplished, and over-25 year olds to collaborate on finding new approaches to issues and problems facing society and also to help the under-25 millennial generation have a greater voice and impact in business, civic life, social things…so that when strategy and plans are set, it’s not…the interests and needs of millennial generation are taken into consideration," she said.

Whatever that means.

Published under: Democratic Donors, Media