The HHS Ignite Accelerator is an internal innovation startup program for staff within the Department that want to improve the way their program, office, or agency works. The program provides selected teams methodological coaching and technical guidance within a fast-paced, entrepreneurial framework.
The Ignite Accelerator is for small teams. Most teams come with an idea. However, individuals with only nascent ideas may submit an initial proposal; we’ll help you incubate that idea to maturity.
What selected teams get with Ignite:
Coaching and individualized mentorship
Access to a larger network of innovators and technical advisors
On-the-job exposure to design techniques and entrepreneurship methodologies
Resources to help teams explore their project and test their idea.
A Multi-staged Program
There are a few key stages worth delineating:
First, HHS staff submit an online application that provides background on the area being explored, information on the project idea itself, and some information on the people that might make up the core team.
From the pool of applicants, finalists are identified and then have 2 months of support to explore their project. Finalists receive “Discovery phase” workshops, networking and mentorship, and the opportunity pitch their refined idea to IDEA Lab staff.
From the pool of finalists, selected teams receive further design and entrepreneurship training and then have 3 months of support to further explore their project and test out their idea with real users/customers. At the end, these teams get to pitch their idea directly to HHS and OpDiv Leadership.
Core Principles of Ignite
Ignite supports the exploration and testing of ideas that promise to modernize government and improve the Department’s ability to carry out its mission. The goal of each Ignite team, during the course of the program, is to validate (or invalidate) the business value of their idea through a series of small but useful tests. The outcome of each Ignite project is usually no more than a low-res prototype or a minimally viable product (MVP) that has gone through some sort of beta-testing with actual end-users, although some projects may go further.
At the end of Ignite, teams pitch to Leadership for continued funding and support. It’s up to the team to secure this funding and support for the next phases of their project. A handful of teams might find themselves eligible for to pitch for support from the HHS Ventures Fund, also run out of the IDEA Lab.
Types of Ignite Projects
Examples of 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
Experimenting with a new management style or organizational structure
Trying something completely new
Partnering with the University of Maryland
The HHS IDEA Lab has partnered with the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland and DC I-Corps to carry out the Boot Camp of HHS Ignite. The Academy, a “signature initiative to infuse the University with a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship”, brings technical advising and a proven program structure for iterating towards solutions. In addition to having access to the top experts within HHS and the federal government, teams accepted into HHS Ignite will be able to leverage UMD and DC I-Corps staff, resources, and mentorship provided by their network of innovators in the private sector and academia.
A Brief History of the HHS Ignite Accelerator
Whether launching awareness campaigns, developing internal processes, or implementing technology enhancements, most projects carried out within government are large and complex. Simple problem solving becomes difficult, and project implementation often ends up unnecessarily bigger and more complicated than originally conceived.
New methodologies brought from the private sector, particularly small startup companies, encourage customer-focused explorations of a problem and data-driven iterations to support decision making. These approaches go by various terms that all overlap: agile development, lean startup, co-designing, human-centered design, design thinking, and others. While each has slightly different meanings, they each recognize the importance of engaging the end-user, understanding the root problem, prototyping and testing, building information feedback loops, and never calling a product final.
Many parts of HHS were beginning to experiment with these new methodologies and finding early success. The HHS Innovation Council sought a way to formalize a pathway that promoted these methodologies while supporting HHS staff with innovative ideas for how the Department can better carry out its mission.
HHS Ignite was launched by the Secretary of HHS in March of 2013 as a “beta”. That “beta” year supported 13 teams, selected among a pool of 65 applicants. These 13 teams were given 6 months and up to $10,000 of support to test out their idea.
As a “beta”, the primary goal of the first year was to learn, to work with these 13 selected teams to better understand their needs prior to the full launch of HHS Ignite. Towards the end of the Ignite year, we captured some key lessons learned: Year 1 Observations and A Proposed Year 2 Structure (PDF)
A number of programmatic and philosophical shifts occurred based upon the experiences working with the “beta” class. Among the key findings were that teams found the mentorship and access to leadership as the most valuable asset of Ignite. Notably, the funds themselves were not. A few of the teams actually returned their funds, though for most of the teams the funds were deemed necessary for their particular project scopes.
At the end of that year, the Deputy Secretary announced that the Ignite Accelerator would be moving forward and leaving its “beta” stage launching in it’s new form that built on the findings from that first Round. Since that time we have had a number of Rounds of the Ignite Accelerator.
The 5 Rounds of the Accelerator
Round 1 // aka “Beta” // July 2013 – Feb 2014 // 13 teams
Round 2 // aka “Summer 2014” // June 2014 – Sept 2014 // 11 teams
Round 3 // aka “Winter 2015” // Jan 2015 – March 2015 // 13 teams
Round 4 // aka “Summer 2015” // June 2015 – Sept 2015 // 11 teams
Round 5 // aka “Spring 2016” // April 2016 – July 2016 // 23 teams