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Susan Moran

Meet three government entrepreneurs

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Please allow me to introduce Dean Williams, from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Dean is a computer scientist who saw that climate data was being collected and analyzed in little pockets all over the place and that few people were sharing information.  Not that they didn’t want to, but because there was no means to do so. Dean saw an opportunity to create something that didn’t exist.

Dean Williams

He built a platform that integrated over 70 different software packages in use by NASA, NOAA, DoE labs, DoD labs, industry and academia. Now that this data can “talk” to each other, scientists can run experiments and models using others’ data. He put the platform on GitHub, an open source platform that opens it to use by any scientist anywhere in the world. Now 25,000 researchers from 27 countries share data and tools via his project. This government entrepreneur saw a problem bigger than his own organization and created a solution that benefits scientists everywhere. And probably all of humanity.

Susan Moran

Next, let’s meet Susan Moran. Susan needed a way to monitor soil moisture readings on a daily basis to better predict forest fires and droughts. The first question she asked was not, “how do I get daily soil moisture readings,” but “who else needs this data?” So she held a few workshops and it turned out that 700 other users from across federal and state agencies needed this data. So she invited a subset of this user base to be the “Early Adopters” of the technology. Keep in mind they hadn’t yet created the technology. These early adopters shaped the requirements and turned into a ready-made customer base.

Peter Emanuel

Lastly, I’d like to introduce Peter Emanuel, pictured above. I had the pleasure of working with Peter for about 7 years. In his work with CBRNE responders, he observed that they did not have an elegant solution for taking samples of contaminated surfaces. Their gear and gloves were too clunky to handle the small components and samples were often inadequate for identification. 9-11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks happened and Peter and his team quickly fielded the BiSKit, a large area sampling kit. This single-use kit was a two-piece plastic container with a sampling sponge fastened to the lid and a dropper attachment that allowed multiple samples to be taken in quick succession with minimal hazardous exposure to the operator. This kit went on to be widely used in the first responder community and most recently was adapted for use in the International Space Station. Peter is now the Army’s ST for bioengineering.

Three very different types of government entrepreneurs from different agencies with very different scales of projects. But they share things in common:

  • They saw a need and possessed a sense of urgency
  • They saw an opportunity to create a completely novel product
  • They developed partnerships and brought in other parties to complete the task, thus mitigating the risk of the new ventures by leveraging outside resources.

But more than anything, they perceived and pursued a reward much larger than themselves that benefited the public good. That is the essence of government entrepreneurship.