Catalyzing New Ideas
HHS Ignite is our internal innovation incubator for new ideas. Ignite provides an opportunity for small teams to test out ideas that could dramatically improve how we within the OpDivs, StaffDivs, and Offices across the Department carry out our work. Ignite teams have 3 months to flesh out their idea and test their solution to a vexing problem before presenting their product and results to Senior Leadership and pitching for continued funding and support.
Ignite projects are exploratory in nature but subject to a rigorous methodology. Selected teams are introduced to design thinking, prototyping, and lean startup as methodologies for customer discover, problem identification, and solution testing. 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, kick-started by a 3-day Boot Camp in DC
- 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:
- An idea to test
- A full-time employee of HHS to serve as the Project Lead to test this idea. The Project Lead and at least one other person must attend the full 3-Day Boot Camp.
- 25% of FTE time to work the 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.
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 three months, is to validate (or invalidate) their idea through a series of small scale 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, though some projects may go further.
What An Ignite Project Looks Like
Though project ideas are required, teams often adjust their project directions and goals, sometimes significantly, during their time in Ignite in reaction to feedback they’re receiving and their growing understand of the issues at hand. At the end of Ignite, teams present their project results and their desired next steps to HHS leadership at a “Shark Tank”. More specifically, Ignite projects go through four broad stages:
- Customer Discovery. Teams hone in on the type of person that the product or service serves. They then go talk to a number – say 10 – of their customers to better understand their customer needs, to better empathize with their end-users problems. (Teams are coached on how to best conduct a customer interview.)
- Building something small. Findings from the customer interviews helps determine what is being built or designed. Depending on the project type, this may be a prototype, the installation and set-up of a software, the creation of particular user-interfaces, etc. It’s particularly important to note that these are rough drafts / early versions of the solution, only enough to be able go to the next stage.
- Customer-driven iterations. In this stage, the low-res solution is put in front of end-users (the customers, ideally the same ones as before) for their feedback. Tiny iterations are made based on each feedback. This cyclical approach is repeated until the team is confident that their product is meeting a market need.
- Wrap-up and Pitch. Findings are collected, conclusions are drawn, and the desired next steps determined. All of this is presented in a short (4 minute) pitch to Senior Department and Agency Leadership.
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 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
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.
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, accepted applications for the second 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, 2014 with a 3-day Boot Camp in D.C. and end their Ignite experience on September 30, 2014 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 to get into the Incubator. 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 act on their ideas starting on day 1.
We begin accepting proposals again in October, 2014.
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).
We will begin accepting proposals for the Winter 2015 Class of Ignite (which runs from January to April 2015) on October 1, 2014. Please stay tuned for more information as that date approaches.
Interested in Applying?
We begin accepting applications on October 1st. On that day, we’ll provide a link here that will take you to a different webpage with a simple form to complete there. You’ll hit submit and then we’ll send you a confirmation email.
The proposal will ask you the following questions:
- Executive Summary (Your Elevator Pitch) [ 500 characters ]
- What’s the problem you’ve identified? [ 2000 characters ]
- What’s your proposed solution? What do want to accomplish within the 3 months? [ 1000 characters ]
- Who is your target end-user / customer? [ 75 characters ]
- Is there any other information you’d like us to know about? (optional) [ 500 characters ]
The Scoring Criteria and Selection Process
Proposals submitted into Ventures are evaluated by a panel of Reviewers based on the following criteria:
- The project’s importance to the Office, Agency and/or Department [20 points]
- The potential impact of the proposed solution. [40 points]
- The proposal’s understanding and explanation of the problem that needs to be solved. [20 points]
- The proposal’s understanding of the customers that the project serves. [20 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. For a schedule of the selection please click on the “Key Dates” tab above.
September – October 2014
By equipping teams with the methodologies and tools used by successful startup companies and surrounding them with network of innovators, HHS Ignite helps small teams wanting to test - in very compressed time frames - new ways of doing things so as to better help their Office, Agency, and the Department better carry out its mission.
After 3 months, the teams present their project findings and pitch to Senior Leadership for continued funding and support. Come!
- Automatic X-Ray Screening For Rural Areas (NIH/NLM)
- CDC’S OPEN IDEA LAB (CDC/NCBDDD)
- Collaborative Analytics Through Data Federation (NIH/NIAID + FDA/CDER + CDC/OPHPR)
- Enhancing CMS Outreach with Coordination Solutions (CMS/OC)
- Hospital Check-in Redesign (NIH/PHX)
- Loan Data Sharing with the Department of Education (HRSA/BCRS)
- Modernizing FDA’s Ingredient System (NIH/NCATS + FDA/OC)
- QDR-Process Improvement Project (AHRQ)
- Resourcing Community Ideas Regionally (SAMHSA/Philly Region)
- Scaling up NHANES Genetic Program (CDC/NCHS)
- The NIH Clinical Center Intern Accessibility Program (NIH/CC)
HHS Ignite, the IDEA Lab’s internal incubator, catalyzes early-stage project ideas that can be completed within very compressed time frames. Teams selected into the Incubator are exposing teams to a network of innovators and equipped with the methodologies and tools used by successful startup companies. Individuals on the selected teams are guaranteed an appropriate amount of their time to complete their project. By HHS Ignite provides a space in which small teams can try something new.
We are accepting applications from October 1 through October 30, 2014, for the Winter 2015 Ignite Class. For more information on Ignite and how to apply, visit http://www.hhs.gov/idealab/pathways/hhs-ignite/.
Recent updates to the Ignite webpages:
08/25: Updated scoring criteria, framing, and other information
08/20: Information on the next round of Ignite added
05/22: 2014 Selected Teams posted (see “Class 2″ at the bottom of this page)
04/16: 2014 Finalists announced
- Contact: Read [dot] Holman @ hhs [dot] gov
- Schedule a 30min Brainstorm Session with the IDEA Lab
- 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
= Click to learn more about that particular project.