CU Boulder partners with City of Denver on new accelerator to promote innovative problem-solving in governments

Ensuring effective transportation solutions for the homeless. Developing a city’s retail regulatory framework. Providing internet access for low-income individuals. Increasing access to composting services. The common theme? All of these are pressing problems identified by the City and County of Denver, and all are being tackled by participants of a new accelerator developed by CU Boulder’s Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology, and Entrepreneurship.

This past summer, Silicon Flatirons launched the Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator (GELA)—the first accelerator of its kind, and one focused on encouraging entrepreneurial thinking and problem-solving in governments.

Silicon Flatirons partnered with the City and County of Denver, under the leadership of Mayor Michael B. Hancock, and with the support of leaders of the entrepreneurial community, to pilot this 12-week program. Nine City employees and five law students were selected to participate.

“Innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset is taking companies and organizations to new heights,” explains Phil Weiser, executive director of Silicon Flatirons. “Governments at all levels, which are feeling the pressure to accomplish more with fewer resources, can benefit from this approach to tackling problems.”

The GELA program touches on three distinct areas of focus at Silicon Flatirons: contributing to thoughtful policy solutions, ensuring the law school experience holds real value, and supporting entrepreneurship in the community. Based on the initial response to the solutions proposed by participants at pitch night this past July, the program will have a tangible impact on the City and its residents.

Promising early successes include the “homeless transportation project,” which has resulted in plans to innovate transit services for the homeless by purchasing new buses and, notably, offering $700,000 in savings while increasing the service provided to the homeless. This proposal has been incorporated into the Mayor’s budget for next year and will begin with the purchase of these new buses and their rollout in 2017.

“HomeworkHome” addresses the challenge of increasing affordable broadband internet access for low-income residents. HomeworkHome swiftly launched a pilot study in September, offering around 100 free laptops and internet connections to students of Compass Academy, a charter middle school that serves low-income students in Denver. PCs for People provided the technology, and the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Education & Human Development will evaluate the efficacy of the program throughout the school year. This video from the pitch night in July explains all four problems and proposed solutions.

In addition to the specific policy outcomes generated by GELA, participants report that it has truly accelerated their development as innovators and leaders. Several City employees who participated in GELA  have already received promotions that they credit, in large part, to their accelerator experience.

“The leadership opportunities provided by the GELA program gave me the confidence to apply for the manager position on my team, “Rebecca De Sanitas said after receiving the promotion. “I realized that, on the one hand, I could make a difference in my organization by changing my mindset and thinking more like an entrepreneur, and on the other hand, that taking a leadership role is not was not as scary as I thought.”

Silicon Flatirons is actively at work to make the second year of the program even more successful. The center has released a report that not only details the GELA program, but includes lessons learned and planned improvements. The report will serve as a blueprint for other governments to implement a GELA program of their own.

“GELA provides a new model of governmental problem solving and leadership development,” Weiser said. “We are inspired by the Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem and look forward to building a program that can have far-reaching effects.”

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