04/05 - 04/14: Boot Camp Alpha & Boot Camp Bravo

A month ago, we announced the 23 teams that had been accepted into the Spring 2016 Round of our HHS Ignite Accelerator, our 3-month internal innovation startup program. Since that announcement, each team has gone through a three day Boot Camp. Part training, part design sprint, our Boot Camps are a mix of lectures, workshops, and brainpower focused towards figuring out what problem or problems the team want(s) to work on, and how to prototype and test against that problem to learn what works.

During these three days, teams refine their project scope, hone their pitch, and maybe even change their team makeup.

You can find the project summaries at the bottom of this page and on a blog announcing the published pages of the 23 projects in the Spring 2016 HHS Ignite Accelerator.

03/09: Selected Teams Announced

From the over 100 applications and over 50 Finalists (note: We’re including the HRSA IdeaSpring pilot in that count), we are happy to announce the next batch of project teams entering the HHS Ignite Accelerator.

11/19: Finalists Announced

11/05: Thank you for your submissions!

We received the biggest batch of proposals to the Ignite Accelerator yet!

If you submitted a project idea, thank you and we look forward to learning more about your ideas to #hackredtape as we go through the review process.

10/1: Now Accepting Applications for our 2016 Accelerator

We’re accepting proposals for the 2016 Ignite Accelerator until Friday November 6, 2015 at 11:59 PM ET.

There are a couple stages as part of the selection process. Finalists are identified mid-November. Selected project teams go through the Accelerator from April to July, 2016.


Download these slides (PDF)

The 2016 Accelerator Will Be Better Than Ever!

We’re excited about the changes we made for this upcoming round of Ignite. They’re both minor and significant. Here are the main ones:

  • More teams. More innovations: In past Rounds we’ve received around 70 proposals, identified 30 or so finalist, and selected about 12 teams into the program. Yes it’s competitive, and we want it to stay that way. However, we also want to spread the love. This Round we’re looking for upwards of 40 finalists and 20 teams to select. Help us get there.
  • An enhanced “Finalist” Stage: All identified finalists receive guidance from IDEA Lab staff and Ignite Alumni to help flesh out their idea and craft their pitch. You can’t be a finalist if you don’t apply!
  • Improved training curriculum: The design and entrepreneurship training, received mostly in our Boot Camp and provided by the University of Maryland’s Academy for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, is getting a revamp.
  • We’re training up more mentors: We’re focusing more on the mentorship side of things than ever before. Mentors meet with you weekly and help you figure stuff out, navigate issues, and expose you to human-centered design and lean startup principles along the way.
  • A defined tool-suite to get things done: We’ve cultivated a list of online tools used by startups around the world – but mostly in Silicon Valley – and are making them available for you.

For more info like this, check out the Round 5 Release Notes (PDF).

Blogs about the Summer 2015 Accelerator (June - Sept)

Accelerating Internal Ideas

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 apply; 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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, though 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.

Core Principles of Ignite

Core Principles of Ignite

Core Principles of Ignite

Types of Ignite Projects

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

  1. Simplifying an existing processes
  2. Modernizing a product or service being delivered
  3. Testing out new tools and technologies
  4. Improving internal policies and procedures
  5. Making something
  6. Experimenting with a new management style or organizational structure
  7. 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 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.

Partnering with the University of Maryland

Partnering with the University of Maryland

Partnering with the University of Maryland

A Brief History of HHS 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, 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.

Short history:

  • 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 // aiming for: 20 teams


All HHS employees are eligible to apply to get into Ignite.

Project Leads must be a full-time employee (FTE) of the Department. Team members can be basically anyone else: Other government employees (from other agencies, departments, state/local, etc); as well as non-government people that you have (legal) arrangements with (contractors, non-profits, Foundations, for-profits, etc).

Apply Here

We accepted proposals for this Round of Ignite between Oct 1 and Nov 7, 2015. Thanks to everyone that applied!

Information on those proposals is elsewhere on this website.

Review Criteria & Things to Consider

Proposals submitted into Ignite are evaluated by a panel of Reviewers based on the following criteria:

  • The project’s alignment to the Office, Agency mission [20 points]
  • The proposal’s explanation of the process, product, or system to be addressed. [60 points]
  • How well the proposed solution aligns with the communicated problem. [20 points]

All Reviewers are HHS employees. Most of them are previous participants in Ignite.

There’s quite a bit involved in determining exactly which proposals, from all of those submitted, get selected as “Finalists”. It involves panels, z-scores, and a desire for diversity of project types and OpDiv involvement. For an example, the determination process used for selecting the Winter 2015 Ignite Accelerator finalists is written up in detail here.


Tips & Tricks: Before submitting, you may want to consider the following…

  • Communicating in simple language is essential. It’s also very hard as we get easily caught up in our own jargon. Consider copying and pasting your  proposal onto HemmingwayApp.com. It’ll tell you the reading level (aim for 8th grade or below), and the parts of your writing that are harder to read.
  • We care more about the problem being addressed than the project being proposed, so spend more time on that section.
  • We are interested in modernizing the core of our operational processes, services, and systems.
  • We are looking for bold ideas that push boundaries. Informational consumer-facing websites and apps are usually (though not always) not very interesting projects as they’re typically ‘safe’ project ideas and thus tend to get scored lower.
  • Not all projects are entirely new systems. Projects that revamps *how* something gets done can be really interesting.
  • Note: The goal of your online proposal is to simply get to the Discovery stage as a Finalist! During that time you’ll be able to refine things and then eventually share with us more details, charts, complexity, etc. So keep the original online proposal simple and straight-forward.

Being a Finalist

Note: Information, files, and other resources for current HHS Ignite Finalists and those in the HRSA IdeaSpring are at the bottom of this page.

Individuals and teams identified as finalists receive design and entrepreneurship training, individualized mentorship, and 2 months to refine their project idea.

All trainings are remote via webinar. And mentorship is given by alumni of the Ignite program. Those that get into this idea incubation stage will be asked to conduct a number of exercises that all past Ignite teams have gone through: The goal here is to get through a significant portion of the “Discovery” phase of your project. The more you discover during this phase, the better!

During this phase, project ideas and even the teams themselves are encouraged to change in light of any new information discovered. We’ll provide the framework for how to approach this.

What Finalists Get:

  • About 5 Hours of Design and Entrepreneurship Training (provided remotely/online via the Online Workshops mentioned above.)
  • 2 Months of loose support (networking and mentorship) to hone your idea and perfect the pitch
  • The opportunity to pitch your idea directly to IDEA Lab staff

What Finalists Do:

  • Finalists explore and flesh out their idea and start to get the ball rolling on their project.
  • Finalists Attend Online Workshops. There will be three of them that are required attendance for at least the Project Lead: Two are focused on “Igniting Discovery” and a third on “Making the Pitch”. Date/Time details are above.
  • Finalists conduct about 10 ‘customer interviews’ (that sounds a little formal; you can call them ‘conversations over coffee’ if you want). Each of these customer interviews is about 45 minutes in length. So note that there is some time commitment involved.
  • Finalists Pitch Their Incubated Idea to Idea Lab Staff. These conversations, which include a short 5 minute presentation from each team, are typically 25 minutes in length and held with 3 members of the HHS IDEA Lab.

Some things to consider:

  • For this next Round of Ignite (Spring 2016), we are aiming to identify 35 teams as Finalists.
  • Considering applying but don’t have a team yet? You may want to just apply anyways as you can figure out who is on your team during this Incubator phase. Actually this might be a strategically smart way to go about it.
  • If your project idea is vague right now, that might be ok. You can use this Discovery phase to hone it.
  • Being a Finalist is a big deal! You get some training from UMD Innovation Faculty and there are some neat networking opportunities with staff within your OpDiv.
  • Our selection process is, in many ways, simply a hiring process and thus our selection process is inherently slightly subjective. Our goal during the pitch sessions is to get to know the team members (particularly the project lead) a bit and get a sense as to the team dynamics and the soft skills at play.
  • While we are certainly interested in the problem you’ve identified and the solution you’re proposing, we are more interested in your experience during the Discovery phase. Who did you talk to? What did you learn? Did your project and/or team change at all?

Information for Current Finalist Project Leads

Files related to your experience:


Book an Office Hour!
Held every Tuesday and Thursday. Schedule via the following doodle: http://doodle.com/poll/wiaq7t4qrivksuri  (FDA folks, since doodle is blocked, just email us if you want to schedule one of these.)


Key Dates

  • Dec 1 @ 1-3pm ET = Online Workshop: Igniting Discovery
  • Dec 3 @ 1-3pm ET = Online Webinar: The Ignite Experience (QnA)
  • Jan 12 @ 1-3pm ET = Online Webinar: Storytelling & Making the Pitch

Your Project Pitches / Interviews
To get into the HHS Ignite Accelerator…

  • You’ll give a 5-10 minute pitch
  • To a panel of 3 people
  • Within a 30 minute session
  • The week of Feb 8 through Feb 12
  • [ For scheduling of these, we’ve emailed a doodle link to Project Leads. ]

There are only a handful of “required” items that we need to see. Each of the below should get its own slide:

  • A Project Name (you can change it if you want)
  • A plain language explainer of your project: A few simple sentences (explain it to me like I’m five!)
  • List of your team members (and if any changed)
  • If either of the boot camp dates are absolute impossibilities for you. (Remember that there are two options)

Beyond this is its up to you to figure out the best way to convince us that…

  1. You have a problem worth trying to address (what’s the potential impact?)
  2. That you have a possible solution that’s interesting and seems to get to the core problem (and likely a little outside the box)
  3. That you’re the right people to run the project (leadership, knowledgeable, office-alignment, etc)

Types of questions we are likely to ask:

  • Clarifying questions re the problem area and your proposed solution(s). (So… what are you doing?)
  • Questions regarding the Discovery phase. (Who did you interview and why?)
  • What was the biggest thing you learned from your interviews? (If anything…)


Selecting the teams
We plan on notifying teams of the final selection on March 7. We’re aiming to select 20 teams into this Round of the Ignite Accelerator.


The Boot Camps for the Selected Teams
Teams selected into the Ignite Accelerator kick-start their effort with a 3-day Boot Camp here in DC.

To ensure a good instructor-to-team ratio, we have two boot camps on the calendar: April 5-7 and also April 12-14. As you know, we require the Project Lead and at least one other person on the selected team to be there for the entirety of all 3 days.

If selected, you’ll just attend one of those Boot Camps of course. We’ll be placing teams in their boot camp, so that we can be strategic about bringing the right people together. IF, for an important reason, one of those weeks absolutely can’t work, then please let us know at the time of your pitch and we’ll try to take that into consideration.

The Ignite Experience

Congrats! You made it through the Finalist stage, you made your pitch to the IDEA Lab staff and you’ve been selected into the Ignite Accelerator!

The fun and the work now begins…

Key Dates for the upcoming Round:

  • Apr 5-7: Boot Camp #1 (for half of the selected teams)
  • Apr 12-14: Boot Camp #2 (for the other half)
  • Jul 14: DEMO DAY for all selected teams


What Ignite Teams get:

  • Further training on human-centered design principles and entrepreneurial methodologies. The bulk of this occurs in our 3-day Boot Camp, but there are other trainings scattered throughout the three months.
  • Coaching and individualized mentorship as you continue to explore your idea, prototype the concept, and test it out with real users/customers.
  • Access to a larger network of innovators and technical advisors.
  • Resources and a suite of tools (technologies) typically not available to HHS staff.
  • At the end, the opportunity to pitch your idea directly to HHS and OpDiv Senior leadership.

What the Ignite Accelerator requires:

  • Curiosity.
  • Determination.
  • Weekly check-ins with a mentor over the phone.
  • A full-time employee of HHS to serve as the Project Lead.
  • 25-50% of your time over the duration of the program. This is particularly true for the Project Lead.
  • The Project Lead and at least one other person must attend the full 3-Day Boot Camp in-person in Washington, DC. We will cover the travel costs of two individuals for each team not already in the DC area.

Things to Consider:

  • We’re aiming to select 20 teams into this Round of Ignite.
  • Because we’re selecting more teams this round, we have two Boot Camps occurring: Half the selected teams will have a Boot Camp on April 5-7; the other half of the teams on April 12-14. There may not be the option to select the one you want to be in. This will become more clear to us in the coming weeks, but you’ll want to note the dates and mark them on your calendars now.
  • You will emerge from the Ignite program a problem solving ninja.

Spring 2016 Key Dates

  • Oct 1, 2015:  First day to submit an application
  • Nov 6: Last day to submit an application
  • Nov 16: Finalists Identified
  • For Finalists:
    • Dec 1 @ 1-3pm ET: Online “Discovery Phase” workshop
    • Dec 3 @ 1-3pm ET: Online workshop continued
    • Months of Dec & Jan: Finalists get mentorship to polish their proposal
    • Jan 12th @ 1-3pm ET: Online “Story Telling” Workshop
    • Feb 8-12, 2016: Finalists make their Pitch for Selection (25 minute sessions during this week)
    • Mar 7: The date we anticipate notifying teams of their selection
  • For Selected Teams:
    • Apr 5-7: Kickoff Boot Camp (for half of those selected)
    • Apr 12-14: Kickoff Boot Camp (for the other half)
    • Jul 14: Demo Day! (Last day of the Ignite Accelerator)

Summer 2015 Key Dates

  • March 1, 2015: Begin Accepting Applications
  • March 31, 2015: Applications Due
  • April 13, 2015: Finalists Notified
  • April 28-30, 2015: Finalists’ Pitches
  • May 4, 2015: Notify OpDiv/StaffDiv Heads
  • May 11, 2015: Selected Teams Notified
  • June 1, 2015: Projects Begin
  • June 8-10, 2015: Three-Day Boot Camp for Selected Teams
  • September 17, 2015: DEMO DAY

Stay up to date

Stay up-to-date on when we are accepting applications by

Our Instructors & Mentors

Lead Instructors: UMD Faculty

Dean Chang | Edmund Pendleton | Erica Estrada-Liou | innovation.umd.edu


Each selected team has at least 2 mentors. One of them has received further design training and has a little more experience facilitating design sessions and working as an entrepreneur within government. These individuals are our Uber Mentors. They give an hour a week to helping the selected teams and can also facilitate half-day deep-dive design sessions.

Here are the individuals mentoring the Summer 2015 class which wrapped up in September:

Uber Mentors

Read Holman, HHS IDEA Lab

Will Yang, HHS ASA

Juliana Cyril, CDC

Michael Arsenault, HRSA


Laura Adam, FDA

Samir Shaikh, FDA

Nick Weber, NIH

Daniel Stowell, CDC & HHS IDEA Lab

Mindy Hangslaben, CMS

Allyn Moushey, HHS Office of Intergovernmental & External Affairs

Ross Bowling, HHS Office of Business Management and Transformation

Blair Corcoran de Castillo, ACF & the Lab@OPM

Molly Moran, U.S. Department of State

Andrea Ippolito, PIF @ Department of Veteran’s Affairs Center for Innovation

Ben Willman, GSA/18F

The #HackRedTape Network of Innovators

Sometimes issues and questions come up that are very specific and beyond the core skillsets of our mentos. In those cases, we put Ignite teams in touch with someone that can help. These may be legal experts, privacy experts, technologists, or someone who can help navigate external relations.

There is also a larger network of Ignite alumni – from every OpDiv and almost every operational HHS Region of the country – that are ready to jump in and help. Beyond HHS, there are also folks who ‘get it’ and have Ignite experience. Previous Ignite mentors include people from other federal agencies such as: 18F, the Lab@OPM, the State Department, SBA, Department of Commerce, and elsewhere.

Contact Information

Read [dot] Holman @ hhs [dot] gov

More Information






Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Still want more? Nice. You probably have what it takes then. Check out our frequently asked questions >

HHS Ignite Projects