What do you mean that Ignite is only for the “testing” of new ideas?

The standard way that government operates: People think they have a good idea and then they go get a multi-million dollar contract to implement that idea. This is certainly an over-simplification, but it’s meant to prove a point: We think that ideas should be tested and validated. We believe that implementation of an idea is just as important — if not more important — than the idea itself.

So Ignite is about testing the idea and also testing the implementation of an idea. Selected teams go through phases of prototyping and may build towards what is called a Minimally Viable Product (MVP).

What kind of ideas are you looking for?

Here are some types of projects that could be supported by Ignite include:

  •     Simplifying an existing processes
  •     Modernizing a product or service being delivered
  •     Testing out new tools and technologies
  •     Improving internal policies and procedures
  •     Making something
  •     Experimenting with a new management style or organizational structure
  •     Trying something completely new

We’ve had a number of people mention that they think Ignite is about technology. It’s not! In fact, we believe that most problems are not technology oriented and thus most Ignite projects are not technology oriented. Tech becomes a red herring where really the processes and larger systems are the issue. Technology can be useful for sure, but it’s rarely the “solution”.

With that said, parts of the government are behind in adopting modern technologies. So, as the third bullet above would suggest, projects that want to test the use of certainly technologies are certainly encouraged.

Is it best to submit a smaller project for consideration, or a larger long, term project?

Well both… Ignite projects themselves, particularly given the time and funding parameters, tend to be small efforts. However, these small and focused efforts are often a part of larger, long-term efforts. Indeed, the scalability and potential impact of the proposed project is an element taken into consideration when selecting the teams each round.

Can the project already be in development but seeking additional support from programs like HHS Ignite?

Yes, a project could already be underway but still at an early stage of development.

What does working in Ignite really look like?

Ignite is a rigorous program and selected teams should expect to spend a significant portion of their total time to their effort. Following the 3-day boot camp in DC which kick-starts the projects, each team has a series of check-ins with IDEA Lab staff and defined stage-gates to ensure adherence to a prescribed methodology and project plan.

What does working with IDEA Lab staff really look like during Ignite?

Selected teams work very closely with IDEA Lab staff during their 3 months on their project. Specifically, they work most closely with Read Holman and Will Yang who provide the regular interactions, instructions, guidance, nudges, and sometimes harsh but important words to help you and your project grow.

Depending upon the needs of a project team, we can connect you with others either within the IDEA Lab, including our Entrepreneurs- and Innovators-in-Residence, or among our wider network. We can help you navigate the worlds of red tape and compliance (security, privacy, etc), and ensure greater exposure to the methods and tools most applicable to your needs (lean startup, crowdsourcing, etc), and the subject matter experts in your area of interest.

Some teams apply for the funds, and that’s fine. But it’s worth mentioning that overwhelmingly, previous teams have told us that the air-cover of being in Ignite and the coaching and trainings during the program are what they found most valuable.

You say you provide teams with “tools and technologies”? What kinds?

For example, we have a secure cloud environment for hosting of web applications. (Note: This is for testing and development during Ignite, not necessary for production after Ignite.)

We also can help teams get access to tools that are sometimes frowned upon. For example, google docs, data viz tools, screen sharing applications, really just about anything you can find on the internet. Their use is only for the support of an Ignite project and assumes certain parameters are in place. We work closely with teams to help them determine the right tools for the job and help them understand the risks associated with their use.

Does Ignite provide technical support (like a developer) to help me complete my project?

Unfortunately no. The IDEA Lab provides guidance and advising, but we don’t contribute staff resources to the project team. Teams are expected to have the skillsets needed to accomplish what they say they want to accomplish.

How does the funding work?

The $5,000 Ignite funds are delegated via an intra-departmental delegation of authority (IDDA) from the Office of the Secretary to the Operating or Staff Division. We then work with each Staff/OpDiv to ensure the funds get further delegated down to your. These are General Management 1-year funds.

By default, the funds are sent to the Office of the project lead. If selected, you’ll need to tell us if for some reason this isn’t the case for your effort.

Selected teams can spend the funds through any mechanism currently at their disposal. Contract vehicles, credit card purchases, inter-Agency agreements, etc.

What if I don’t need the $5k in the first place?

Teams have the option of waiving their access to these funds. This is perfectly fine. Previous teams have indicated that the funds are not the reason they applied anyways. Still we recognize that a little seed funding might be needed to help validate an effort.

Are there former Ignite participants who I can talk with?

There are! The names of those involved with a project – Project Leads, supervisors, and team members – appear on each of their project pages (see the bottom of this page). They’re all great people and you should feel free to reach out to any of them.

How many proposals were submitted in the last round of HHS Ignite, and of those submitted, how many were selected?

In the two rounds we’ve had thus far, 74 proposals have been submitted, and 24 have been selected.

How many team members can I have?

A team can be as small as 1 (just the Project Lead) and as big as 5 (including the Project Lead). The other person on the proposal form is the supervisor of the project lead, but this person does not necessarily go against the overall count.

Team formation is just as — if not more than — important than the idea itself. So when putting together a team, be sure to consider the skill sets and perspectives needed to run a successful project. Pretend you’re a startup: What kind of people do you want to hire?

What if I need a 6th person on my team?

Not to be too harsh, but chances are you don’t.

During the course of Ignite, you might end up working with many people and want them all to be ‘on the team’. But in terms of official team members, fewer is likely better. While we appreciate the desire to be inclusive, it’s important to clearly define what ‘involvement’ looks like for your team and maintain a tight core unit. For example, if they’re not spending at least 15% of their total time on Ignite, they’re probably more of a collaborator than a team member. Collaborators (and stakeholders, and others) are very important, but they fall into a category separate from team member.

With all that said if you convince us along the way that 6 people are needed, great! Just put their info in a different part of the proposal.

Are contractors eligible to apply?

The Project Lead must be a full time employee (FTE) of HHS. However, their teammates do not have to be FTEs, and indeed they may be contractors. Teams may be up to 5 individuals total.

In my proposal, can I include photos, infographics, or other additional information?

Unfortunately we don’t allow supplemental information to be added to the Ignite proposals. You can imagine how the volume of information could get out of hand and our (volunteer) reviewers could quickly become burdened.

With that said, there may be an opportunity for you to provide more information. If your submitted proposal is selected as a finalist and advances to the interview stage, then that’d be a great place to bring up the contents of your document.

Can I submit more than one proposal?

Yes. Though of course, an employee can’t be the Project Lead on more than one selected proposal.

Whose approval do I need in advance to submit my proposal?

We require only the approval of the supervisor of the project lead.

Do you notify Agency heads or others of my project idea?

All Staff/OpDiv heads are notified if — and only if — a proposal involving their staff get selected into Ignite. This occurs prior to the team even knows that they’ve been selected. This gives the leadership an opportunity to ask questions, seek clarifications, and provide any additional information they think we might need in order to make the best selection of teams.

What if my idea threatens someone else’s job?

Some ideas submitted are fairly disruptive in nature. And by definition, disruptive innovations go against the status quo, they run against existing processes behind which are staff and contractors that get paid to do their jobs.

But this is exactly why the IDEA Lab exists: To provide a safe place for experimentation outside of the normal operating environment. The American tax-payers are looking for a more modern and effective government so we encourage disruptive ideas. If it’s a good idea, and during Ignite you demonstrate viability of that idea, then it will sell itself.

Are Ignite projects internally or externally facing efforts?

They can be both: Projects may be internally or externally facing.

Will Ignite help me spin off my own company if successful?

This is a great question! Love the spirit behind this. The short answer is… yeah sure why not. Ignite strives to improve the way the Department carries out its mission. So the notion of spinning out a startup is a little weird through this lens, but we can see it happening. If it makes sense, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

What happens to the Ignite projects when they’re done?

During Ignite, we work with all the teams to help them run a meaningful test of their idea. This is to flesh out the idea itself and to help build evidence supporting it.

At the end of Ignite, we play the role of convener and help teams — at least the ones that are ready — to get in front of the right people to present their project idea. We’ll put the team there, but it’s up to the team to make the sell.

In aggregate, about a third of all teams have received the funding they wanted to take their effort to the next level; about a third received the ok from their leadership to continue working on their idea though without funds; and about a third ended up not really moving forward.