Colorado's voluntary chief innovation officer position is all about making the right associations.
Mark Sirangelo's title is chief innovation officer for the state of Colorado. But really, his job is to make connections.
Sirangelo, a Colorado aerospace executive, was appointed to the unique unpaid cabinet-level position last September. His task is to spot where interdiscipline and intermarket collaboration could lead to big gains.
“It’s an educational role, it’s a champion role, it’s a facilitator role, it’s essentially a recognizing role,” said Sirangelo, who also serves as chairman of Colorado Innovation Network (COIN). “All those things will make Colorado a better place for its citizens, a more interesting place for people to come to and live, and a more interesting place for businesses and organizations to locate and, overall, create a stronger state.”
For instance, agriculture and aerospace traditionally have not had a lot to do with each other, but both industries are important to Colorado, and that is one scenario where the state will look to get people working together, he said. The industries already intersect where satellite technology is being used for precision agriculture, Sirangelo noted. If government can facilitate more of these types of collaborations, it will be beneficial all around.
Colorado is home to hundreds of aerospace companies, and Sirangelo himself is the corporate vice president of Sierra Nevada Corp. Space Systems. His knowledge of the aerospace industry could prove useful, but the state’s opportunities for cross-discipline collaboration extend to many different combinations of fields; they are not limited to aerospace. The bioscience and agriculture industries, for instance, have great potential to yield new opportunities for the state, he said.
“One of the benefits of this collaborative work in pursuing innovation is that by utilizing the skills of more agencies and more people, governments can avoid making costly mistakes," he said. Governments sometimes pursue projects they aren’t ready for, end up in over their heads, and then in the end they have to pursue outside help anyway.
In other cases, he said, it just makes sense for stakeholders to work together toward a unified goal, so they don’t have to reinvent existing processes. “We had major floods here a few months ago in Boulder, and they wiped out a large portion of a number of cities; it was a major disaster,” he said. “The idea of being able to marshal all the resources to address that problem allowed us to be ahead of the plan to fix the roads and the cities and the buildings.”
You can’t stop something like a flood, he said, but if you work together you can do a much better job of responding and recovering.
Another facet of Sirangelo's job is to highlight instances where innovation is paying off.
One example comes from Colorado's wine industry, which consisted of five wineries in 1990. Today the state boasts more than 100, a reality made possible once the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board was created and officials identified “micro-climates” that made wine growing a possible new venture for the state.
Government solutions like digital DMV services are another great example of innovation, he said. “[What] we’re trying to do is highlight those innovative stories that are there, and inspire next-generation students or people to do more,” Sirangelo said. “My role, in its humblest form, is to get people interested in and talking about these areas, hoping that will spur more creativity and innovation and more interest in people coming and staying in the state.”