There are accelerators for tech startups (Techstars, Boomtown), startups with female leadership (MergeLane), and global social entrepreneurship (Unreasonable Institute), but there’s an important area missing: an accelerator for entrepreneurs innovating within government at a time when governments need to do more with less.
This summer, Mayor Hancock and the City and County of Denver partnered with the Silicon Flatirons Center at the University of Colorado to pilot a Governmental Entrepreneurial Leadership Accelerator (GELA), supporting the development of innovative and entrepreneurial solutions for problems faced by governments. To our knowledge, this program was the first of its kind in the country.
The Accelerator brought together nine City and County of Denver employees and five Colorado Law students as fellows for 12 weeks this summer, taking part in a cutting-edge entrepreneurial curriculum, learning from regional and national mentors, and testing entrepreneurial solutions to identified challenges facing the City and County. Participants tackled five policy areas and presented their ideas to Mayor Hancock on July 21st at Galvanize.
The interview below is with a GELA fellow.
- What’s your name?
- Where do you work and what do you do?
Learning & Development Project Liaison within the Office of Human Resources. I help manage the projects and new initiatives going on in the city as they relate to learning & development.
- What’s your professional background?
I have six years of experience in the private sector working in higher education. I’ve held roles in the Registrar’s office, in Quality Assurance Auditing, Policy and Planning, and Project Management. I’ve been with the city since 5/2015 when I joined the Office of Human Resources team.
- What made you want to participate in GELA?
GELA is an incredible opportunity to develop my skills not only in the HR profession but as a person. The things we learned were interesting and immediately applicable, and the work stretched me outside my comfort zone. It was a great opportunity for personal and professional development, and allowed me to develop skills and contacts I never would have otherwise.
- What challenge was your group focused on?
Internet Access – we proposed a pilot program at Compass Academy which is a charter middle school in Harvey Park. The pilot is called HomeworkHome and it provides computers, internet, training, and evaluation to 240 middle school students.
- What was the most noteworthy or interesting part of the program?
The lean start-up and design-centered ideas have been really helpful in approaching our challenge, and are things that I will be able to take back to my regular job. This compliments the Peak process improvement skills I learned in Black Belt of thinking about the customer, not being afraid to fail, and testing out assumptions or hunches with experiments before moving forward. The idea of a minimum viable product as something that is cheap and easy to make quickly that can be tested and iterated was really helpful. We have been doing this in Learning & Development all year!
- Are you thinking about your work differently as a result of GELA? If so, how?
Yes, I’m trying to think about work from a simpler perspective. Taking the initiative to get something done or championing a project when there isn’t a clear leader is easier now that I have more skills to draw from and the confidence that things will be ok if it doesn’t turn out right the first time. The hard work of entrepreneurship in government is creating a culture where it’s ok to fail and try things out, where experiments are welcomed and iterations are expected. Denver has come a long way in this regard, and we have a long way to go.
Marla Trevor (pictured above (in green) with her GELA team) has been with the City and County of Denver since 2015 on the Learning & Development Team within the Office of Human Resources. She contributes a variety of unique skills to the team including project management, process improvement, organizational effectiveness, policy and procedure design and training content creation. She enjoys creating efficient systems that drive results to support her colleagues and the learning and development strategy.