Jumpstarting Innovation at HHS: Ignite Launches its Sixth Round with a 3 Day Design Sprint

HHS bootcamp

Teams selected into the HHS Ignite Accelerator learn and apply core design and entrepreneurial principles taught by our partners from the University of Maryland.

The sixth round of HHS Ignite has now officially taken off!

Last week, 13 teams descended on the Hubert Humphrey Building to jumpstart projects addressing important problems or opportunities that affect how the Department ensures the health and well-being of Americans. They are starting their journey in Ignite, the Department’s internal innovation startup program for staff that want to improve the way their program, office, or agency works. Over the next three months, the sixth cohort of Ignite teams will run the gamut of HHS’ broad mission, from improving medical device review, to easing research grant applications processes, to spreading opioid abuse education and interventions, and on and on along other key mandates.

Despite running five rounds of the Ignite program, and already having seen 71 distinct sets of opportunities, personalities and approaches, it is still refreshing and pleasantly surprising to see most teams either wholeheartedly, or at least cautiously, adopt the entrepreneurial mindset and methods taught by our teaching partners from University of Maryland Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Over the three-day-long design sprint, or Boot Camp as we call it, teams learned and applied core design and entrepreneurial principles such as developing empathy through unstructured interviews, synthesis through tools such as journey maps, and ideation and testing through sketches and prototyping. They also gained key aspects of the Lean Startup framework, which guides them through identification of key stakeholders and development and testing of hypotheses surrounding their needs.

Jonathan Bush

Jonathan Bush, Chairman, CEO, and Co-Founder of athenahealth, presents to teams at the Boot Camp.


Continuing our legacy of having powerful guest speakers for Boot Camp, we presented Jonathan Bush, the Chairman, CEO, and co-founder of athenahealth. Jonathan shared important insight into the entrepreneurial thought that initially steered athenahealth’s early strategy and how it stumbled onto its ultimate business model of automating inefficient and repetitive processing of federal health care paper forms. His talk moved to focus on the ways that federal or state government contributes to administrative requirements on providers. And while not everyone in the audience necessarily agreed with his every view, Jonathan’s fiery presentation was instructive (and generous) in exposing his honest frustrations, providing valuable insight on how industry might view the demands of working with government.

Fortunately, one of our teams in this cohort just happens to be addressing an opportunity that intends to reduce those very burdens on physicians as they interact with the single largest payer in our healthcare system, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The intrepid group, led by CMS’ Jon Langmead, is seeking ways to incorporate a variety of physician feedback into policies and/or communications that directly addresses their needs and pains. CMS will actively assess the  means and types of data they are receiving, synthesize the data into useful information, and, create actionable information to better serve providers.

Like the CMS team, Ignite teams expose their passion for making government operate more effectively and efficiently; they are addressing an opportunity with far-reaching potential and should be lauded for the efforts they will put forth as they navigate a complex system in order to make difficult but important change. Over the next three months, teams will be tasked with learning more than they care to about all the players in their ecosystem, where there is common ground, and what kinds of solutions will satisfy which needs and motivations that they uncover along the way. By the end of the Ignite journey, we hope but don’t expect every Ignite team to discover the ultimate solution to their challenge; however, what they learn along the way is most important; the value Ignite teams create almost always comes in unexpected ways, just as it did for Jonathan and athenahealth.