Over the past nine months, innovators in the fifth round of the Veterans Health Admiration Innovation Ecosystem’s (VHAIE) VHA Innovators Network (iNET) Spark-Seed-Spread Investment Program and Innovation Accelerator have been doing something incredible: integrating innovation into their everyday work.
Through VHA Innovators Network Accelerator, VHA employees in the field find skills, knowledge, guidance, and community to develop and grow their health care innovations into practices that are changing and saving Veteran lives.
“What’s been so incredible to see how this year’s participants have adapted and innovated in the VHA Innovators Network Accelerator itself despite the extra work and challenges,” said Brynn Cole, Director of Programming, iNET. “During a time like this, many people think of programs like the Accelerator and innovation as extra work. But iNET participants understand that it’s a key part of all our work to make sure Veterans are receiving the best care possible.”
Since iNET’s start in 2015, the Accelerator has taken each cohort of Spark-Seed-Spread investees and exposed them to new ways of thinking and resources. Investees design and test their Veteran-centric solutions to top VHA priorities in a space free from the operational day-to-day restrictions, allowing them to “start small, fail small.” The Accelerator supports early-stage ideas through education and consists of a process of intense, rapid, and immersive education aimed at accelerating the life cycle of young innovative ideas. The Accelerator compresses years’ worth of learning-by-doing into just a few months. The results have led to a variety of employee innovations that have grown and impacted Veterans throughout the country, including VEText, PRIDE for All Who Served, and GERI-VET.
“Learning about the innovation process has been quite amazing,” one investee noted. “Thus far in my medical education, training, and implementation, the underlying assumption is a linear, one right answer to things. I really think the shift to an exploratory, iterative, innovative model is not only helpful but necessary.”
This year has been no less successful, despite unforeseen shifts and barriers caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. iNET leadership has improved the Accelerator through the application of new ideas and the formation of partnerships. The Accelerator kicked off with the annual iNET Bootcamp in November 2019, then throughout the following nine months, investees participated in virtual webinars and trainings. For the first time this year, the ongoing Accelerator trainings were broken out and geared specifically to each investment level. For instance, Spark investees, whose ideas are less mature than Seed or Spread investees, receive training focused on early stage ideation, prototyping, and iteration based on customer feedback.
A second new aspect of this year’s VHA Innovators Network Accelerator was a partnership with FedTech. Through this partnership, investees received training from FedTech’s experts in innovation and business development. This partnership provided unique opportunities for investees to learn new ways to both innovate and build a community from industry leaders and innovators outside of VA.
“I believe watching the partnership between private industry and VA has instilled a sense that VA has far more to offer the broader health care community than we currently contribute,” said another Accelerator participant. “Although our walls may be old, our ability to innovate and pioneer is new, alive, and thriving.”
Despite many participants having to shift much of their work and focus to COVID-19 related matters at their facilities, their innovative work and education continued thanks to the tools and community that the Accelerator provides. Not only was innovation allowed to grow, but participants were also able to stay connected with other innovators and co-workers despite often being separated physically. Moving innovation forward while delivering continued quality care has been iNET’s goal since its launch, and this year’s Accelerator has shown that its ever-evolving work is providing innovators at VHA with the support they need.