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Creating A Marketplace For Public-Private Innovations

Former US Transportation Department CIO Nitin Pradhan discusses why he established GOVonomy to match government needs with innovative technology startups

Nitin Pradhan has seen technology innovation from both sides of the public-private sector divide. Pradhan was CEO of a wireless startup, the managing director of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, and an IT executive at Fairfax County Public Schools (the nation’s 12th largest school district) before serving as CIO of the US Department of Transportation from 2009-2012.

Since leaving US DOT, Pradhan has been on a mission to bridge another divide by creating a marketplace designed to match government needs and opportunities with emerging technology products from startups and growth companies. Pradhan, who also writes about technology and government for InformationWeek, talks with InformationWeek Government editor Wyatt Kash about his rationale for the marketplace, called GOVonomy, and why it fills a need he first recognized as a federal government CIO.

Nitin Pradhan, co-founder of GOVonomy.
Nitin Pradhan, co-founder of GOVonomy.

InformationWeek: Why did you feel the need to create a marketplace between government and startups? Why aren’t traditional integrators able to provide that connection?

Nitin Pradhan: The public sector typically custom creates most technology solutions. Such custom solutions are costly to develop, time-consuming to test, difficult to maintain, and expensive to upgrade. Angel- and VC-funded startups and growth companies develop thousands of scalable products or productized services, which distribute the cost of development, testing, maintenance, and upgrade over a number of customers. The government would be better served if it could use more commercial off-the-shelf products from such startups than custom development.

Unfortunately, government buyers have large technology budgets, but have little success in locating [and] attracting innovative smart startups and growth companies to submit proposals. Startups and growth companies have few resources to create a public-sector marketing programs and sell to the government. I believe GOVonomy is the nation’s first marketplace that bridges this gap.

How does the marketplace work?

Pradhan: GOVonomy works to understand the needs, challenges, and opportunities in the US public sector. It identifies quality solutions from startups and growth companies whose products can solve these issues. Finally, GOVonomy introduces public organizations to these new technology products through the online platform. GOVonomy also helps arrange strategic discussions, demonstrations, and pilots for increased understanding, education, purchasing, and integration for these products.

How did you come up with the concept for GOVonomy?

Pradhan: I have always been interested in driving public value through private growth. When I was the departmental CIO for US Department of Transportation I launched an internal initiative called Technology Evaluation and Learning Sessions (TELS). This initiative introduced innovative startups and growth companies whose products had the potential to address US DOT’s needs, challenges, and opportunities quickly and at a fraction of the cost of custom-building these solutions internally. TELS proved very popular in US DOT with both government employees and contractors. So after I left US DOT, I teamed up with Ty Gabriel, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur to launch GOVonomy for the entire US public sector to drive public-private innovations.

[Read why former Transportation CIO Nitin Pradhan wonders: Do We Need A U.S. Department Of Technology?]

Who are you actually targeting as buyers?

Pradhan: GOVonomy is targeting the US public-sector IT marketplace – about $200 billion in annual spending -- including federal, state, and local governments, law enforcement agencies, K-12 institutions, universities, and college systems, non-profits, associations, and international organizations, as well as embassies based in the USA. GOVonomy’s buyers are mainly government employees -- and contractors from public-sector business units.

How do government agencies benefit from working through GOVonomy?

Pradhan: GOVonomy works with the federal, state and local governments in three different ways: (1) regularly introducing a series of groundbreaking new technology products from US startups and growth companies to the government to showcase innovation, (2) researching, assessing and presenting new technology product solutions available for government based on its specific needs, challenges, and problems, and (3) facilitating the creation of new technology products focused on government opportunities that lack government funding or buying commitment.

How do government buyers use the GOVonomy platform and what does it cost?

Pradhan: Membership to is free for government buyers by enrolling online. Members can browse the entire catalog, create wish lists, learn about new products, recommend products, document business problems and seek solutions, request presentations, demonstrations, or pilots, seek quick quotes, get discounted pricing, receive special offers, as well as get exclusive invitations to GOVonomy educational, networking, and demo days virtual and physical events.

What are your criteria to become a GOVonomy supplier?

Pradhan: Any technology company with a high-quality product can apply to become a GOVonomy vendor through the online GOVonomy platform for free. Such vendors must be qualified and approved to sell to the US public sector, demonstrate they can address the requirements of the public sector, have the product available and have sold it to the private sector, and finally have commercial pricing, support, and maintenance structure in the US.

What’s the business model for sustaining GOVonomy?

After review, assessment, and approval by GOVonomy of the vendor and the product, GOVonomy becomes the authorized reseller, getting reseller commissions to introduce, market, and sell the products to the US public sector. Vendors normally support products sold by GOVonomy directly.

How do you recruit startup and growth companies for the government marketplace?

Pradhan: We continue to get referrals from the public sector, the venture capital community, and entrepreneurs. We also research and analyze [a] vast amount of information relating to global-venture-capital-funded companies and proactively reach out to them either directly or via their venture-backed firms.

The startup and growth companies realize that we offer a one-of-a-kind, highly specialized public-sector service, so recruiting has not only been stress-free, but fun! We currently have about 15 companies in our portfolio, mostly from [the] USA and a few from Canada in areas of cloud computing, cyber-security, mobility, big data, and social networking. We are currently assessing about 20 companies from US, Canada, India, UK, France, Germany, and Israel. We expect to reach a portfolio of about 100 companies in a year’s time.

What companies are in your portfolio and what prospective companies are you talking to?

Pradhan: We have an interesting portfolio of companies with leadership positions in their segments, including Mimecast (unified email management), Zoom (cloud video conferencing), KoolSpan (hardware-based mobile security), Avotous (sourcing, expense, and usage management), Beachhead (complete device management), Perfect Cloud (identity management in the cloud), and PowWow (porting desktop apps to tablet). Microsoft recently acquired one of our portfolio companies -- Apiphany.

We are talking to a number of exciting companies in areas of enterprise stress management, smart power grid management, mobile citizen engagement, application performance management and monitoring, tele-medicine, social network[ing] for [the] critically ill, and many others.

We are also actively looking for quality mission-focus technology products in defense, intelligence, healthcare, environment, transportation, law enforcement, and all other major government functions.

Do you envision VC’s and PE firms playing a role in supporting the marketplace for government products, given their traditional skepticism over how long it can take to secure government purchases?

Pradhan: Absolutely! We can help VC’s and private equity companies on their public sector investment strategy for their fund and portfolio companies.

GOVonomy is also working to help create new technology products focused on government opportunities, but with no government funding or buying commitment. So we have launched a new service called “request a solution.” Public-sector members can list their problems and the type of solutions they are seeking. GOVonomy then will work to search for available solutions or seek funding of new companies targeting this problem with venture capital funds if no quality solutions are available.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published Nov. 15, and republished Nov. 19, to make some minor corrections.


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David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/15/2013 | 11:21:56 AM
I'd be curious to know his thoughts on fixing, where part of the problem may have been "rounding up the usual suspects" from the ranks of government contractors rather than seeking out people with experience building transactional websites -- more likely to come from Silicon Valley than the suburbs of Virginia.
User Rank: Author
11/15/2013 | 12:10:30 PM
Re: fixing
I'd be interested to hear Nitin's comments too, though one imagines that anyone from Silicon Valley coming in at this point would find it baffling to sort through the layers of contracting and security rules that dictated some of the design decisions. 
Susan Fogarty
Susan Fogarty,
User Rank: Author
11/15/2013 | 12:17:56 PM
Creating opportunities
This program looks like a good way to give some exposure to smaller and more innovative companies. But I wonder if the logistics can really work in terms of financing and timing. The government works in such a different way than the private sector, especially for emerging technology.
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 5:25:59 PM
Re: fixing
@MikeP688 I hope he's loaning minds along with the bodies. A number of state sites could have been used as models for just doing what they were supposed to be doing-- offering users access and information.
Tom Murphy
Tom Murphy,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 6:37:03 PM
Overcoming Bureaucracy
One of the biggest hurdles for small companies is coping with the bureaucracy of a government bidding process while trying to design and build innovative solutions -- the priority of any good startup. This is one reason why so few small companies even bother. It's a system that is tilted to favor larger players with those capabilities.

If this solution can help overcome that problem, then it will be a roaring success.
Chuck Brooks
Chuck Brooks,
User Rank: Author
11/21/2013 | 11:31:02 AM
Public Private Partnerships are the best pathway
Nitan, terrific interview. I wholehearteadly agree with your approach to integrating and promoting the public/private sectors for innovation and delivery. Please see link to a recent article I published on the subject.

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