Not the NSA: Knight Foundation shells out cash to eight startups hoping to crack government open
In the lead-up to last year’s US presidential election, a group of UC Berkeley students launched a visualization tool that showed the potential economic impact of the two candidates’ key policies. Called Politify, the app demonstrated who would be a better president for a particular voter in economic terms dependent on zip code and personal financial details.
Politify caught the attention of lawmakers around the country, and the students soon realized that the tool could be useful outside of the context of an election. After entering TechStars in Boston and building a demo budget simulator for the State of Massachussets, it became clear that the app could be a day-to-day tool for formulating public policy and communicating its impact.
Now Politify has transformed itself into Outline and is in the process of raising a first round of funding. In the meantime, however, it is today being announced as one of eight winners of the Knight News Challenge on Open Gov. The Open Gov challenge, which was launched in February, tasks innovators with coming up with solutions that make public information more relevant and useful.
The money distributed by the Knight Foundation among the other seven companies totals $3.2 million, but the Foundation is not disclosing how much Outline has been awarded. That’s because Outline’s windfall is coming through the Knight Enterprise Fund, an early stage venture fund that invests in for-profit ventures aligned with Knight’s mission of fostering informed and engaged communities. Other winners are receiving sums ranging from $220,000 to $620,000.
Outline co-founder and CEO Nikita Bier says the Foundation’s investment will be helpful for strategic reasons, chief among which will be leveraging Knight’s media connections. He hopes that some media outlets may be interested in embedding Outline’s visualizations in their content.
Outline is about two months away from a public launch, says Bier, and will be moving back to Berkeley from Boston in just over a week’s time, in part to accommodate the company’s new CTO, who joins from data visualization startup Visual.ly. Bier expects Outline to be doing data visualizations for three state budgets within the next few months.
Meanwhile, the Knight Foundation has announced the list of Open Gov grant winners at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference at the MIT Media Lab. Nick Judd of TechPresident had previously criticized some of the Challenge’s semifinalists for being reproductions of ideas that had already failed and catering to a “nonexistent hunger of an indifferent public.” None of the companies in Judd’s crosshairs, however, made it to the final eight.
The winners, as described in the Foundation’s press release, are:
Civic Insight: Providing up-to-date information on vacant properties so that communities can more easily find ways to make tangible improvements to local spaces. $220,000
OpenCounter: Making it easier for residents to register and create new businesses by building open source software that governments can use to simplify the process. $450,000
Open Gov for the Rest of Us: Providing residents in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago with the tools to access and demand better data around issues important to them – from housing to education. $350,000
Oyez Project: Making state and appellate court documents freely available and useful to journalists, scholars and the public, by providing straightforward summaries of decisions, free audio recordings and more. $600,000
Procure.io: Making government contract bidding more transparent by simplifying the way smaller companies bid on government contracts. $460,000
GitMachines: Supporting government innovation by creating tools and servers that meet government regulations, so that developers can easily build and adopt new technology. $500,000
Plan in a Box: Making it easier to discover information about local planning projects, by creating a tool that governments and contractors can use to easily create websites with updates that allows public input into the process. $620,000
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]