HHS Idea Labs program awards $400,000 to ‘shark-tank’ survivors

Greg Downing, executive director for Innovation at the Department of Health and Human Service's Idea Lab and Chad Heilig, associate director for data science fr...

While most agencies try to imitate advances in the private sector, the Department of Health and Human Services instead is emulating the process that fuels many recent innovations: startup accelerators.

A startup accelerator is a company that invests in businesses in their earliest stages, funding innovative ideas and offering mentorship to help them get off the ground.

The HHS Idea Lab, the agency’s internal startup accelerator, has two stages: the Ignite Accelerator and the Secretary’s Ventures. The Ignite Accelerator provides employees with funding and mentorship over 6 months to pitch, develop and demonstrate their innovation in a shark-tank-style process. The projects must improve their office, agency or department’s ability to function.

The Secretary’s Ventures is the second stage of the program, where a council made up of HHS leadership selects a limited number of teams who graduated from the Ignite Accelerator and provides increased funding, improved resources and an extended time frame to implement their project on a larger scale.

“The Ventures program is a highly competitive program aimed at scaling and taking to the next level of deployment, innovative ideas, technologies, workflow process improvements that are aimed at really dramatically improving office functions, and the agencies’ ability to meet their mission,” Greg Downing, executive director of innovation at HHS, told Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

On March 9, the HHS Idea Lab awarded more than $400,000 to five projects from last fall’s Ignite Accelerator round. These projects, according to the press release, include:

  • Automated Autism Classification for Public Health Surveillance: This project uses machine learning that can reduce the amount of time and work it takes for clinicians with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to diagnose, collect and analyze the data on autism in children, which usually takes about 4 years between the beginning of the cycle and publication.
  • Global Bidding and Assignment System 2.0: This project is a flexible system for recruiting and deploying a global workforce in order to respond to international health threats.
  • NARMS Collect: A Public Health Surveillance Mobile App: The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System is a mobile app that reduces the amount of time it takes the FDA to gather data in the field and process food safety monitoring data by months.
  • The Federal HR Wiki: A team consisting of employees from the Office of Human Resources at the National Institutes of Health and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration at HHS created a collaborative depository of federal Human Resources Knowledge.
  • Automation of Onboarding Process for Special Government Employees: The current system for appointing Special Government Employees at the NIH requires 13 different paper forms. This system automates the process, using data sharing to provide every involved party with the required information, while the user only has to enter it once. The system may be adaptable to other federal agencies and departments.

The next round of the Ignite Accelerator, the fifth since July 2013, will launch in early April.

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