Collaboration has always been an important component to the success of the VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE). Designing and developing innovative solutions takes not only diverse perspectives, but the talents and skills of many to implement and impact Veteran lives. Collaborations and partnerships were on the agenda during last month’s National Entrepreneurship Week. VHA Innovators Network (iNET) Director of Operations, Allison Amrhein participated in a panel during Federal Eship Day to tell stories of successful VHA IE collaborations and opportunities for the entrepreneur community to help VA improve Veteran care.

During the panel, Amrhein was joined by representatives from the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Appalachian Regional Commission. The panel specifically focused much of the discussion on the impact and outcomes of COVID-19 on entrepreneurs.

“What I have witnessed is a tremendous ability to pivot, to adapt, and to create” said Amrhein.

One example discussed during the panel was the VHA IE/Challenge America COVID-19 Maker Challenge series last summer. This virtual series focused on challenges essential workers in different fields (emergency services, long-term care, environmental services, etc.) were facing due to the pandemic. It then brought together teams of VA subject matter experts, makers, engineers, end users and other eager participants to design solutions and prototypes to combat these challenges within a week. For some of these teams, however, the series was not an ordinary event – it spawned new start-ups and companies that are continuing the work they began during the event.

“These newly born start-ups are passionate and determined to do good. That, to me, means that entrepreneurship is alive and well even during this difficult time – it’s is just so exciting,” Amrhein said during the panel.

Another example of VA’s collaboration with the entrepreneurial community is iNET’s Greenhouse Initiative (Greenhouse), which Amrhein highlighted during the panel. The Greenhouse is an indirect result of COVID-19. Because of innovation events taking place during the pandemic, like makeathons and hackathons, iNET leadership observed a need in the entrepreneurial community for end users, user experience tests, and early-stage discovery and ideation. Through the Greenhouse, iNET provides access to a pool of engaged and equipped frontline health care professionals and millions of Veteran end users. More importantly, iNET’s Innovation Specialists – local innovation program and project leaders at VA sites across the country – work as design project leads for Greenhouse collaborations.

“This National Eship Week’s Federal Eship Day panel was such a unique opportunity to reach out to entrepreneurs and small businesses to tell them: we want to work with you to bring Veterans the best, most innovative care possible! We want to support you. VHA IE is strengthened by collaboration with the entrepreneurship community and is focused on building a culture in which collaboration is part of our mission,” said Amrhein.

For more information about VHA IE and how its breaking the boundaries of health care, visit https://www.va.gov/innovationecosystem/.

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