03/09: Five Teams to Be Supported by the 2016 Ventures Fund

We are happy to announce the 5 teams selected by the Ventures Board to be supported by this next Round of HHS Ventures Fund.

11/21: Our submission window is now closed. Thanks to all who submitted!

We solicited ideas between Oct 1 and Nov 20, 2015. If you submitted a project abstract during that time, thank you! We look forward to learning more about your ideas to #hackredtape as we go through the pitch process.

We plan on announcing the selected teams in March 2016.

10/01: We Are Now Accepting Project Abstracts

We are accepting project abstracts from October 1, 2015 through November 20, 2015 for 2016 Funding. Please see the tabs on this page for information on submission and selection process as well as on the particular domains of innovation we are striving to support this Round.

Download these slides (PDF)


The HHS Ventures Fund provides growth-stage funding and support to HHS employees with proven ideas for how to dramatically improve their Office, Agency, or the Department’s ability to carry out its mission. The Ventures Fund gives Department employees the opportunity to take a proven but still early-stage idea to the next level of implementation.

The HHS Ventures fund investing partners include:

  • Immediate Office of the Secretary, HHS
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of the Director
  • National Institutes of Health, Office of the Director
  • Food and Drug Administration, Office of the Commissioner
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Office of the Administrator

What You Get with HHS Ventures:

  • Up to a maximum of $100,000 to go towards your project (you pitch for what you want)
  • Up to 15 months of support (as defined by the proposal)
  • Multi-day training on design principles and entrepreneurial methodologies
  • A suite of tools typically not available to staff (e.g. Secure Cloud)
  • Guidance and technical support specific to project implementation needs (EPLC, PRA, etc.)

What HHS Ventures Requires:

  • At least 50% of your time. This is particularly true for the Project Lead. Other team members may be less depending on their role.
  • Teams are generally able to operate freely on their own and manage their project through their own milestones. However, regular check-ins and reporting requirements do exist to keep the IDEA Lab staff aware of progress.

Core Principles of the Ventures Fund

The Ventures Fund supports the scaling and/or operationalization of tried and tested innovations.

There are existing mechanisms within HHS that fund internal projects. The Ventures Fund is different from those in a number of ways:

  1. The types of projects we support tend to be more disruptive to internal operations; this is intentional.
  2. The Ventures Fund is not for exploring nascent project ideas (see our Ignite Accelerator for that). All projects applying for Ventures Funding should have been prototyped and tested in some capacity and thus have sufficient evidence that it’s a good idea worth investing in. During your pitch, we will ask you to demo your beta product (if it’s a product) or walk us through the early version of the new service or process (if it’s a service or process you’re addressing).
  3. We require Ventures Funded projects to be managed and implemented using core principles and methodologies espoused by the IDEA Lab. These include Iterative implementation, customer engagement throughout the process, and transparent task-tracking towards major milestones.

Seeking These Types of Projects

Through our supporting teams over the last couple years, we’ve gained better insights into 1) the particular value this Ventures Fund program plays within the Department; and 2) the particular strengths we have at the IDEA Lab to best support particular innovations. We are continually refining our investment approach  to ensure we are having optimal impact.

Now entering our third round of funding, we are seeking applications for projects that address these domains of innovation.

Re-engineering Core Processes

We are seeking projects that improve processes critical to the mission of an office or agency. These projects may – though are not required to – leverage technologies such as those involved with digitizing paper-based processes or fully automating manual ones. The projects may focus on simplifying, streamlining, or expediting information pathways, perhaps turning sequential approvals into parallel processing. These projects may be externally- or internally-facing.

Strengthening the Department’s Workforce

We are seeking projects that target human resources operations to strengthen the Department’s capacity to carry outs its mission. Projects may focus on personnel recruitment, on-boarding, training, and/or other elements of HR.

Increasing Citizen Engagement with Government

We are seeking projects that help promote meaningful engagement with citizens. These projects may focus on one or more of the following: enhancing the value of Federal Advisory Committees (FACAs), leveraging crowdsourcing mechanisms, increasing our capacity to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, cultivating the maker movement, propelling citizen science, or other issues.

Improving Energy Usage and Waste Operations

We are seeking projects that help the Department reduce its carbon-footprint on the world. These projects may focus on improving our own operations or they may spur sustainable solutions for our operational partners, such as for grant recipients. Projects may focus on one or more of the following areas: using “smart” technologies and connected networks, innovative implementations of solar cells or other renewable energy converters, reducing physical waste, scaling repurposing programs, converting waste to energy, and other projects that help reduce waste and improve energy efficiencies for the Department.

Promoting Security + Innovation

We are seeking projects that represent paradigm shifts in our approach to security within the Department. These innovative projects should not only increase security but also better support program staff’s ability to carry out their work. These projects may focus on physical security, data-systems security, block-chain technologies, FISMA-related policies, employee awareness trainings, or others.

Surprise us!

While we will be showing some preference to the above, we are still accepting proposals that don’t fall into any of the mentioned categories. As with all categories above, these other projects may be internally- or externally-facing.

History of HHS Ventures

In March of 2013, Secretary Sebelius announced the “beta” year of HHS Ignite. Launched as part-seed fund and part-incubator, HHS Ignite (beta) supported 13 teams in order to test the concept of direct investments in Departmental projects.

A number of recommendations to the HHS Innovation Council came from that “beta” year of HHS Ignite. One recommendation was to create a competitive “Phase II” opportunity that would support the scaling of the best projects.

To broaden the funnel of potential projects, the eligibility was expanded beyond simply those participating in HHS Ignite. Our first two Round of Ventures Funding have gone to 6 projects

Projects Funded in June 2014:

  • The 2014 HHS Health Game Jam – A 48 hour event where game developers competed to prototype – and for the winners, eventually launch – games that focused on the primary and secondary prevention of HIV/AIDS. (CDC + NIH + HRSA + External Partners)
  • EMS to HIE Innovation – Tested the viability of piloting a single sign-on HIE system in California for providers, including emergency response personnel, who serve patients outside of the disaster area. (ONC + ASPR)
  • The NIH 3D Print Exchange – Scaled and operationalized an online portal to open-source data and tools for discovering, creating, and sharing 3D-printable models related to biomedical science. (NIH)

Projects Funded in June 2015:

Eligible Participants

All HHS employees are eligible for HHS Ventures Funds.

Ventures teams can have up to 5 individuals. The project lead and at least 1 other individual must be full time employees (FTEs) of the Department. Other team members may be embedded contractors, federal employees outside of HHS, or individuals from academia, industry, or elsewhere in the private sector.

Executive Sponsor

Each project being proposed must have an Executive Sponsor. This person’s position within the organization should coincide with the desired scope of the proposed project, so it might be a Division Director (if it’s a more targeted project) or an Agency head (if it’s a larger project).

Selection Process

Projects are ultimately selected by a cross-HHS Council of senior individuals from the Agencies applying as well as from individuals at the HHS level.

Step 0 / Submit Your Project Abstract: Teams interested in receiving Ventures Fund complete an online application. This is meant to be very simple and easy for the interested parties.

Step 1 / Give a Pre-Pitch: All teams that submit a project abstract pitch their idea to IDEA Lab staff. This pitch should contain the following elements:

  • The short history and the story of your project
  • Evidence (quantitative and/or qualitative) supporting your desired next steps
  • An environmental scan of the other major players in the area. We’re looking for awareness of the larger ecosystem as we want to understand your role in it.
  • Information on the members of your team
  • Your project timeline
  • What you want to accomplish within your given timeline
  • Amount of money being requested with info on what you’re going to do with it (e.g. a simple budget)
  • A live demo of the solution you’d like to scale, if applicable

One goal of this step is for staff to provide feedback on the proposal (the business details) as well as on the presentation itself. The IDEA Lab staff will also determine if any shouldn’t go forward to the next stage. This will depend upon the total number of proposals received. We anticipate advancing up to 10 projects going on  to Stage 2.

Teams have the opportunity for multiple pitches to the IDEA Lab.

Stage 2 / Pitch Your Project: The teams then pitch to a cross-Departmental Board. Because the Fund supports efforts that have already demonstrated success, these pitches include demonstration of the prototype or tested technology or whatever the equivalent is for the particular project.

Step 3 / Deliberations and Negotiations: The Council members deliberate until they reach consensus. They may seek additional advice from experts from across the Department if needed. There’s also an opportunity for back-and-forths (negotiations) with the applicant team regarding the dollar amount, the team make-up, the project goals, and the project timeline.

Reviewing Criteria and Selection Process

Proposals submitted into Ventures will not be officially scored by weighted criteria. However, those involved in the selection process will be looking for the following elements:

  • What is the proposed project’s importance to and potential impact on OpDiv and HHS missions?
  • What’s the potential return (impact) on this investment?
  • Is the project idea ready for this level of investment? Or is more time needed researching and testing first?
  • Is the team composition right?
  • Are there compelling partnerships, either across HHS or even outside the Department, that otherwise may not have come together?
  • What’s the feasibility of the project in terms of timeline, capital resources, and Agency support?
  • Is this just risky and disruptive enough for us to take on?

In addition to paying attention to the evaluation criteria above, here are some things to consider when submitting your proposal:

  • Ventures supports “Phase II” efforts of proven projects. How are you defining “Phase II”? What was “Phase I” of your effort?
  • What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • Why is Ventures support needed?
  • What will you be using the funds for? You may request “up to” the maximum of $100,000. Please justify the requested amount by providing details on how the funds will be used. See Guidance on the Use of Funds under the Contact and More Information Tab.
  • Are there any additional resources, monetary or not, from you home office or partners that would supplement the Ventures resources?

2016 Funding Cycle

  • Oct 1, 2015: First Day to Submit a Project Abstract
  • Nov 20: Last Day to Submit a Project Abstract
  • Nov 30-Dec 4: Pre-Pitches to IDEA Lab staff and Alumni (each applicant gets a 75 minute sessions during this week)
  • Feb 1-Feb 4, 2016: Pitch #1 to the Board (45 minute session during this week)
  • Feb 17-19: Pitch #2 to the Board (30 minute session during this week)
  • Mar 7: Selected teams expected to be notified

2015 Funding Cycle(s)

  • Jan 1, 2015: Begin Accepting Project Abstracts
  • Feb 28: Last day to Submit a Project Abstract
  • Mar 2-13: Give Pre-pitches to IDEA Lab staff
  • Mar 16-27:  Pitch to the Board
  • Apr: Selected projects announced

Contact Information

Program Director: Read [dot] Holman @ hhs [dot] gov

More Information

How the HHS Ventures Fund has changed each round:

How funds are delegated:

Funds are transferred from OS GDM to the OpDivs via an Intradepartmental Delegation of Authority (IDDA) and are subject to the rules and requirements of the Public Health Service Act.

HHS Ventures funds cannot go towards FTE salary. HHS Ventures funds may be used for purchase of tools, technologies, and services through procurement and contracting vehicles available to the office awarded.

Selected teams are able to obligate funds through any mechanism available to them through their normal business practices. HHS Ventures funds do not allow for exceptions, exemptions, or any other means of operating outside of standard parameters.