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At Public Spend Forum, we’re proud of the work we’ve done to connect buyers and suppliers in the public sector. We’re also struck by the irony that in few markets would this type of work really be required. When a private company decides it needs products or services, offers can be solicited and contracts tendered in a matter of months.

In the public sector, and specifically within the federal government, this is simply not the case. There are good reasons for a longer sales cycle; many items purchased by government support at-risk populations or impact matters of national safety and security. When these projects fail, the impact extends beyond any organizational bottom-lines. Furthermore, public spending is tied to socioeconomic goals that help underserved businesses create jobs and employ more people. As a result, best value to the government doesn’t always mean the best product at the lowest price.

But the fact is government needs access to the innovation that is a hallmark of small, lean companies. Traditionally, government has lacked a channel to these companies and that’s one of the problems we’re trying to solve at Public Spend Forum. And we are not alone. When failed in a public and spectacular way, it did more than call attention to the government’s inability to build software. It cast a bright light on the procurement process, with many words written about this issue. In a recent Forbes article, Kalev Leetaru summarized the barriers that exist between the federal government and private sector innovation:

“Perhaps the biggest driver of this innovation failure is the failure of many leaders in government to recognize and accept that they need to modernize their approach to data and their failure to understand the power of technology to address those needs. Many appear entirely isolated from the advances in basic data analytic technology, let alone the kind of bleeding-edge capabilities coming out each day from Silicon Valley.”

Others have lambasted the procurement process itself. Writing in the Daily Caller, Joanne Butler, former staffer to the House Ways and Means Committee, gave her take on why federal procurement can’t keep pace with technology:

“To truly upgrade federal government’s IT systems, the White House would be wise to propose bold legislation to speed up the procurement system. Considering the hyper-fast changes in technology, art of a federal IT deal should take months, not years, to accomplish.”

Fortunately, the appetite for procurement reform is still a priority for the Trump Administration. In fact, the White House is accelerating this momentum through the Office of American Innovation (OAI) which recently hosted its inaugural convening of private sector technology executives and agency leaders. While OAI’s mission is broader than reforming how the federal government procures information technology, it is a primary focus. What does this mean for America’s ability to access the full power of our innovative startups and other young companies?

For one thing, it means that we should expect more channels to open up for this specific purpose. Certain innovative procurement methods introduced by the Obama administration are sticking around, such as challenge-based competitions that focus on outcomes vice process and incubation-style offices set up within cabinet-level departments that have authority to award contracts faster to companies offering bleeding-edge technologies.

Procurement reform has a way to go, but we are encouraged by the progress and motivated by the opportunity. Yet there’s still a real challenge in convincing startups and small companies that the federal government and its $450 billion-dollar annual discretionary budget is an addressable market.

This is where Public Spend Forum can help.

Starting in early July, we’ll be launching an initiative to accelerate the adoption of private sector innovation for the public good. Our goal through this initiative is to help leading technology and solution providers deliver breakthrough impact to public agencies by equipping them with the knowledge and tools to overcome the complexities of federal procurement.

In accordance with the principles of lean startup to which we ascribe, we’re testing this initiative with a first-of-its-kind boot camp to help startups and small businesses sell to the government. For a limited time, we’re offering a spot in this boot camp to 25 companies that want a piece of this multi-billion dollar market. Companies that choose to take this journey with us will have the opportunity to shape this program while getting hands-on support from our program faculty and mentor network.

Think you have what it takes? Check out our program overview to learn more.

Image Courtesy of Ryan McGuire

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