What Is HHS Ignite?
Incubating New Ideas. HHS Ignite catalyzes early-stage project ideas that can be completed within very compressed time frames. Teams selected into HHS Ignite are guaranteed an appropriate amount of their time to complete the project. By exposing teams to a network of innovators and equipping them with the methodologies and tools used by successful startup companies, HHS Ignite provides a space in which small teams can try something new in a startup environment.
By supporting the continual pursuit of the problem that should be addressed, Ignite projects are exploratory in nature. Selected teams are introduced to lean startup as a methodology for problem solving and project implementation. In the entrepreneurial spirit, Ignite projects are iterative, their impacts measurable, and their solutions scalable.
What teams get with Ignite:
- 3 months of support to test your idea
- A network of innovators, mentors, and technical advisors
- On-the-job exposure to new methodologies and tools used by successful startup companies
- A suite of tools (technologies) typically not available to HHS staff
- $5,000 to go towards the project idea
What Ignite requires:
- Teams must be led by a full-time employee of HHS
- Selected teams attend a 3-day immersive Boot Camp
- Selected teams commit 25% of their time over three months to work on their Ignite project. This is particularly true for the project lead. Other team members may be more or less at any given time depending on their role.
Project plans, approaches, and efforts are conducted in the open to allow for feedback and real-time sharing of lessons learned and experiential knowledge. Through their Ignite tenure, teams demonstrate the viability of an idea and gather data and lessons learned to support their next steps. At the end of Ignite, teams present their project results and their desired next steps to HHS leadership at the Ignite “Shark Tank”.
Why was HHS Ignite Developed?
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-centric 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.
Partnering with the University of Maryland
The HHS IDEA Lab is partnering with the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland and DC I-Corps to carry out this round 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 toward solution. 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 Ignite
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, Deputy Secretary Bill Corr announced that Ignite would be moving forward and leaving its “beta” stage. However, the parameters of Ignite were modified for the next class: Teams would receive 3 months and up to $5,000 of support to test their idea. A partnership with UMD and the DC I-Corps would bring additional non-monetary support to the teams but more structured framework within which the teams were to operate.
In March, we began accepting applications for the 2014 class of HHS Ignite. We received 74 proposals and in the end selected 12 teams. These teams begin the three months of their work on June 9 with a 3-day Boot Camp and end their Ignite experience with a closing-day “Shark Tank” where they’ll present their Ignite findings and pitch for continued support to senior Department leadership.
All HHS employees are eligible to apply for HHS Ignite support. Teams of up to 5 may include individuals from outside of HHS or from outside government. However, Project Leads must be a full-time employee (FTE) of the Department.
Teams should collectively hold the skillsets and expertise to begin their effort on day 1.
The Reviewing Criteria and Selection Process
Proposals submitted into Ventures are evaluated by a panel of Reviewers based on the following criteria:
- Proposed project’s importance to and potential impact on OpDiv and HHS mission [15 points]
- The likelihood that the methods and metrics proposed will produce and demonstrate reliable results (How would you measure impact / success?) [15 points]
- Transferability and/or scalability of the innovation [20 points]
- The novelty and disruptive nature of the innovation concept being tested [25 points]
- The feasibility of the project proposed in terms of timeline, capital resources, personnel and program support. [25 points]
Teams submitting the top proposals will be asked to present and discuss their project with members of the HHS Innovation Council. The Council will make recommendations to the Secretary who will make the final selection.
We are no longer accepting proposals
Proposals for the most recent round of HHS Ignite support were accepted from March 3 through March 28th of 2014. Folks on the HHS network can browse all submitted proposals (link only available for HHS employees).
- Contact: Read [dot] Holman @ hhs [dot] gov
- HHS Ignite Yammer Group (Available only to HHS employees)
- 2014 Selected Teams in Brief
- The 2014 Finalists (and the Selection Methodology)
- Browse all 2014 Submitted Proposals (Available only to HHS employees)
The content below does not have alt text attributed to the images. To view each project, select the link associated to each project. To get alternative text to each image, please go to the Projects page at http://www.hhs.gov/idealab/projects/.
The HHS Ignite Projects
Below is the Project Gallery for HHS Ignite. Currently only the projects from the “beta” year are shown. The 2014 class will be added in mid-June following the Boot Camp. Until then, feel free to browse the brief descriptions of the 2014 selected teams.
To read more about each project click on the beaker icon () under the project title.