DENVER – Late last month, 14 people had the unique opportunity to pitch their ideas for innovation in government directly to a governmental leader—a leader with open ears and desire to try new ways of doing things.
On July 21 at the community resource, the Commons on Champa, nine City and County of Denver employees and five law students pitched their solutions to some of the City’s most pressing policy problems to Mayor Michael B. Hancock and other judges in the culmination of the first-ever accelerator for government leaders. The pitch night was the capstone moment for the employees and students taking part in the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator (GELA), which was launched in May by Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“The ability to think entrepreneurially and experiment with new solutions is a game changer for companies and a wide range of organizations,” Phil Weiser, Executive Director of Silicon Flatirons, explains. “With GELA, we are taking the concept of an entrepreneurial mindset directly to government and teaching this methodology to leaders who can make a significant impact on how government works.”
The pitch night drew a large crowd of local entrepreneurs, government employees, and others interested in bringing entrepreneurial thinking to government. Along with Weiser and Mayor Hancock, Denver’s Chief Performance Officer Dave Edinger and the Blackstone Charitable Foundation’s Executive Director Amy Stursberg gave opening remarks on the importance of entrepreneurial thinking before the pitches began. The program fellows, who were split into four teams, then had ten minutes to pitch their ideas to the judges, followed by five minutes of questions and answers. Sue Heilbronner, CEO of MergeLane, and Brendan Hanlon, Denver’s Chief Financial Officer, joined Mayor Hancock on the judging panel.
“Denver leads the nation in employee-driven innovation within city government because we invest in our employees and empower them to find new ways to make government work smarter. The Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator program has continued that tradition by connecting city employees with innovators and job creators in our community to find solutions to some of our most pressing issues,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock said. “I want to thank Silicon Flatirons, The Blackstone Charitable Foundation, and the program’s mentors for partnering with Denver to bring new ideas and tools to city government.”
The Blackstone Charitable Foundation is the sole sponsor of this pilot program through a $75,000 grant to Silicon Flatirons as part of its efforts to seek new and innovative ways to support entrepreneurs and startups in targeted regions globally. Previously, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation partnered with Silicon Flatirons in 2014 through a three-year, $3 million grant to fund the formation of a dense network of entrepreneurial support in Colorado, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network.
The solutions pitched include cutting waste and reallocating resources spent on homeless services to provide new and better services, increasing demand for composting services within the city, encouraging and rewarding compliance to regulatory inspections of local businesses, and partnering with local businesses to provide computers and internet access to low-income families.
The opportunity to make a pitch came after nine weeks of intensive research and problem solving by each of the teams to their assigned problem statement. The City employees worked on problems outside of their normal responsibilities, affording them a truly fresh perspective to the given problem. The law students learned about governmental operations and how to tackle problems in new ways. The program began with an entrepreneurial boot camp that enabled the fellows to develop entrepreneurial techniques for problem solving and learn how to properly apply them in a government setting.
“As we’ve seen in our programs across the country, entrepreneurs are driving innovation across the private sector,” said Amy Stursberg, Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation. “Our Foundation has long supported these efforts, and it is tremendously exciting to see that mindset being applied to the issues facing Denver government agencies, driving innovative ideas and solutions.”