Percy Grant Project Becomes High-Tech Startup

photo of Nikita Bier
photo of Nikita Bier
September 25, 2013

From his cozy, sunlit office overlooking downtown Berkeley, Nikita Bier (‘12) is changing the world of politics. “I was obsessed with this question: How does government affect your well-being?” As CEO and co-founder of Outline, Bier has found a way to use visual design, social media, and economic political policies to give the voters an answer for “what am I getting?”

As an undergraduate at UC Berkeley majoring in Political Economy and Business Administration, Bier applied to the Percy Grant, for his project Politify, an interactive web application that demonstrated the economic impact of political candidates’ policy proposals using a voter’s own demographic information. Three days after applying, he learned he had won. “It was the first recognition we ever got that we were working on something exciting," said Bier.

Winning the Percy Grant in 2012 opened up big doors for Politify. Bier went on to receive awards from Big Ideas @ Berkeley and the Sunlight Foundation, as well as the win the Civic Data Challenge. “All of a sudden we were all over the news, all over the internet,” Bier says, leaning forward with excitement, “6 percent of people changed their political affiliation after using our site!” Politify became huge.

Today, Politify has turned into Outline, where state residents can input personal data and view how different budget variables affect them and their communities. "We renamed it Outline because we were actually trying to ‘de-politify’ the situation,” Bier explains. Currently, 10 states are interested in Outline to develop a program that Bier describes as a real-world "Sim City." After receiving over $850,000 in funding from the Knight Foundation Enterprise Fund, Esther Dyson, and the Dorm Room Fund, Massachusetts was the first state to contract Bier's team.

Looking to the future, Bier believes that, as with President Obama’s 2012 campaign, "2016 will be a year where Big Data is used." Outline also hopes to expand internationally.

So what advice can Bier give students about his experiences with the Percy Grant? "I think seeking out sources of capital is critical,” Bier says, because it “validates your vision for the world. Validation is so important for your ideas."

Terri Bimes, the administrator of the Percy Grant, is thrilled with Bier's success. "The Institute of Governmental Studies is so proud to support talented students like Nikita Bier with a Charles H. Percy Undergraduate Research Grant." she said. "It goes to show that a little help can go a long way."

The Charles H. Percy Undergraduate Grant for Public Affairs Research awards six undergraduate students up to $500 each to pursue research on an aspect of American politics. The first deadline for this year's awards is November 5.

Also pictured with Nikita Bier in the homepage photo are Jeremy Blalock, co-founder & CPO (center) and Erik Hazzard, co-founder and CTO (right).
Photos of Nikita Bier and Outline team by Maxyne Tanha.