HHS Kicks Off Tour to Entice Startups

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Agency officials are heading on a cross-country tour to demystify selling to the government.

The Health and Human Services Department on Monday kicked off a cross-country outreach tour aimed at “demystifying” its contracting process and showing local tech communities the agency is “open for business.”

At the first “Startup Day” hosted by HHS, officials outlined on the agency’s procurement process and addressed concerns that might scare small businesses away from engaging with the government. The forum was the first of 13 nationwide events HHS plans to host over the next two years.

“Our [procurement] process is not that opaque, but maybe we don’t do the best job articulating it,” said HHS Chief Technology Officer Bruce Greenstein. The agency wants to use the event series to give technologists and entrepreneurs a better understanding of what working with government entails and show them the problems they can help the agency address, he said.

Taking the government on as a client can seem daunting to fledgling companies and the heavily regulated purchasing process can keep many entrepreneurs at bay. By making its procurement procedure “incredibly” open and transparent, HHS hopes to dispel those fears, said Greenstein.

“If you know what to look for, you can read [procurement policies] like a book,” he told Nextgov. “Demystifying government and making it more transparent and easy to work with, that’s a big, heavy task … and we take that seriously.”

As part of that initiative, the agency is making inroads with local tech communities by working with startup incubators and business mentoring groups, he said. Using resources from the agency, these larger organizations can help guide innovators and entrepreneurs through the different stages of procurement.

Greenstein said HHS isn’t loosening any regulations around procurement, but the agency is implementing a handful of policies to make its contracting process less burdensome for companies.

In October 2016, the agency indefinitely extended its parallel review process, which allows the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to simultaneously evaluate products. The policy cuts down the time it takes for companies to get their products approved and on the market, Greenstein said, and parallel review has already helped fast-track kidney research at HHS.

FDA is also exploring ways to speed up the approval process for low-risk products from companies with successful track records, he said.

Though dates for the upcoming startup days haven’t been released, Greenstein listed Boston, Indianapolis, Seattle, Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., among the cities where HHS will host events.