DENVER — “Google it.” “Uber home.” “Airbnb-ing.” Will government be the next noun to morph into a verb? That’s the hope and a driving force behind the Reverb conference, which brought government, tech startups and venture capitalists together Nov. 3 in Denver to discuss innovation in the public sector.
“These fundamental technologies have changed the actions so drastically that they have redefined the verb, because saying you’re getting a ride isn’t the same as getting an Uber,” said Ashton Kutcher, who is well known for acting but also has been investing in tech startups for more than a decade.
“The essence of Reverb is really at the core of what these technologies do because when they're done right and they're done well and they're done efficiently, they change the verb, they reassign the verb,” said Kutcher.
The event, hosted by the Colorado Innovation Network and Sound Ventures (Kutcher is a co-founder), focused on collaboration, partnerships and the future of public-sector IT, while also providing a venue for government tech leaders to meet directly with startups.
Housed within the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the Colorado Innovation Network (COIN) has traditionally worked to spur entrepreneurialism in the state, but this year used its annual conference to change the conversation to accelerating innovation in government.
“Reverb was a new pilot to see if we could deeply connect our public-sector leaders with early stage companies to drive real innovation value inside of the public sector,” Erik Mitisek, the state’s chief innovation officer, told Government Technology.
The one-day meeting was broken into keynote sessions and breakout tracks, while concurrently pairing startups with government representatives to discuss potential needs and opportunities. About 150 people were in attendance, with government, startups and “network leaders,” which included venture capitalists, equally represented.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper identified a need for “friendly friction” between government and tech companies to move public-sector IT forward. “In the state and, in many cases, counties and municipalities have this kind of old-fashioned approach to procurement — how do they really innovate that, how do they change that?” he asked during the morning keynote. “An event like this today can go a long way. COIN ... is all about bringing together the best and the brightest from different industries to harness that friendly friction, that innovation.”
Collaboration and partnerships could be a key pairing to move the needle forward on gov tech innovation — but it’s not a new idea.
"I would say that the state of Colorado has been at the forefront of working with startups,” state CIO Suma Nallapati told Government Technology. As an example, she referenced the 2013 flooding in the state and how there was an immediate need for a platform that would allow multiple entities to track incident response and recovery. “My Google team worked very closely with a company called Simply Local out of Boulder, and we stood up that website in 48 hours,” said Nallapati. “We had to have user interface design happen very quickly so we worked closely with Galvanize [a tech co-working space].”
The site, Colorado United, is still used today, and Nallapati said it’s become a model for resilience and recovery.
So what verb will innovation in government lead to? One wasn’t specifically mentioned at the conference, but Colorado’s CIO agrees that it’s only a matter of time until one rises to the surface.
“We Google, we tweet, we Uber, we Airbnb,” Nallapati said. “We should come up with a great word for that, and it should be so modern and effective that people look forward to interacting with government. We are on the path toward it.”
Editor's Note: This article was updated on Dec. 15.
Elaine Pittman worked for Government Technology from 2008 to 2017.