Government crowdsources solutions to tough problems

Crowdfunding is popular for raising funds for products and medical expenses as well as startups. The federal government is crowdsourcing equity, funding and now — ideas.

Michael Contreras is the director of SensisChallenges, one of the groups in the D.C. region being contracted to solve some of the government’s problems.

“SensisChallenges is what we call a ‘crowd innovation consultancy’… we transform organizations through crowd solutions,” said Contreras. In other words, SensisCallenges uses large pools of people to solve the government’s problems.

“The government is just getting started with this tool. They’ve done over 700 challenges across 80 agencies, and they’ve given out hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Contreras. The government is able to receive ideas from those outside traditional partnerships and award money to the best ideas.

A recent challenge was sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services, specifically focusing on Health Information Technology.

“They had a thesis that data doesn’t flow across provider networks,” said Contreras, and hoped to find better ways to incentivise small businesses to share data.

“It started with just concepts and proposals at the early stages, and by the end of it, two full-fledged startups were awarded cash prizes,” he tols What’s Working in Washington.

In addition to prize money, these crowd consulting challenges include expert advice and seals of approval from government agencies to help startups find further federal funding.

Contreras said that he started SensisChallenges because “I always found myself drawn toward this idea of creative improvement.” As an engineer, he said he always looked for ways to improve products and services as well as monetize those improvements.

“I was trying to develop a process that improved upon the existing grant mechanisms that we were using… I thought, what a great idea for a company, and what a great place in Sensis,” said Contreras.

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