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Announcing Our 2019 Fellows

Political tech start-ups begin with bold ideas that address critical areas of need. Their success depends on motivated entrepreneurs who thoroughly research the key issue they are trying to solve, before going to market. HGL is proud to announce our 2019 Fellows, who will participate in a 3-month “Entrepreneurship-in-Residence” research program.

This year, our fellows Horace Williams, founder of Empowrd Apps, and Becca Blais, General Manager of Bluebonnet Data, will each conduct an in-depth research project that allows them to better understand the issues their technology addresses. Through this program, fellows will develop their ideas in close partnership with the HGL team and through facilitating interviews, administering surveys, connecting with industry experts, and conducting focus groups.

We are thrilled to welcome Horace and Becca to the HGL family.

Horace’s extensive background in software design and lifelong exposure to political advocacy led him to create Empowrd, a technology platform that strives to make legislative advocacy a manageable task, in 2015. Though Horace first took a genuine interest in politics while studying at NC A&T State University, his passion stems from his father, who had been involved in New York politics throughout his childhood. Horace’s career took off when a small start-up he led design for was acquired by the social media management company, Virtue, at which he later served as the Director of Creative Services. In 2012, Oracle acquired Virtue, and Horace quickly transitioned into a new role as Director of UX for Social Listening and Engagement. Three years later, Horace decided to merge his personal interest in politics with his expertise in start-up development and founded Empowrd.

At Higher Ground Labs, Horace will research how consumable political and civic data can be leveraged by low income communities to influence local policy. Through taking a deep-dive into the role of civic data within underrepresented communities, Horace will study the impact that Empowrd has on its existing clients, such as Georgia Nurses Association, Chicago Norml, People over Profits, and others. He will determine what tactics, best practices, and specific tech tools enable success in low-income communities. Additionally, he will research the ways in which constituent analytics can enable Empowrd to encourage voters to engage their elected officials and join advocacy groups, all in the pursuit of empowering voters to impact the fate of critical legislation.

Becca, a recent graduate of Notre Dame, is the General Manager of Bluebonnet Data, a volunteer-powered start-up that provides analytics tools and services to campaigns that cannot afford a traditional Data Director. Becca first got involved in politics through her college studies, work in Student Government, and involvement with the Truman Foundation. She met the founder of Bluebonnet, Nathan Goldberg, at a rally for Mayor Pete Buttigieg in South Bend in early spring, 2019. Becca was immediately excited about Bluebonnet’s mission and began to volunteer with the organization before being named the General Manager in June, 2019.

At Higher Ground Labs, Becca will research the role of data science in down-ballot Democratic campaigns that lack access to a Data Director. Through better understanding the current use of data in down-ballot campaigns, Becca will enable her team to create services that fit into the existing landscape and power campaigns to use their resources more effectively. Becca will research how down-ballot campaigns, that traditionally cannot afford either in-house data scientists or external consultants, currently use and manage their data. She will then determine how Bluebonnet’s services can help track canvassing targets, set fundraising benchmarks, and map existing voter data. Lastly, she will continue to determine the best ways to develop Bluebonnet’s network of volunteer, college-aged computer scientists, who offer their time to campaigns who desperately need basic analytics work.

At HGL, we are developing a pipeline of bright individuals with innovative ideas for how to improve progressive campaigning through our fellowship program. We are excited to see what insights Becca and Horace find and can bring back to their companies. Welcome to the team!