The VHA Innovators Network (iNET) consists of 33 VA facilities across the country that aims to empower VHA employees to design their own innovative solutions to problems they experience firsthand.

The network fosters a culture of innovation through an education in innovation-related principles.

Enter the Spark-Seed-Spread Innovation Investment (Spark-Seed-Spread) and Accelerator Program. Spark-Seed-Spread asks employees to identify a problem and their idea on how to solve it.

The program provides selected recipients resources for employees to operationalize their early-stage innovations and training. Resources include human centered design, lean start-up and storytelling. Selections are determined by iNET facility leadership and national subject matter experts.

“Spark, Seed, and Spread” refer to an innovation idea maturation.

“Sparks” are early stage solution ideas still being explored.

“Seeds” are solutions with completed prototypes which need to undergo feasibility testing.

“Spreads” are solutions which have proven feasible in one environment or location but more testing is needed to refine the solution for validation.

Allison Amrhein, VHA iNET director of operations

Similar to the start-up world

The program is run similarly to the start-up world rather than research or other avenues more common to Federal agencies.

This is not a grant program. It is specifically called an “investment” program because we are investing VA resources back into VA employees. Spark-Seed-Spread is twofold: It’s about the innovative solution or investment and the employee innovators, or investee. The purpose is to support the development of both.

Teams of employees, representing 92 innovative solutions, were selected as 2020/2021 Spark-Seed-Spread investees. While converting their innovation idea into a reality over the next 10 months, these employee innovators will also go through the Innovation Accelerator Program.

The Accelerator, another start-up like program, supports these early-stage ideas through education and consists of a process of intense, rapid, and immersive education aimed at accelerating the life cycle of young innovative ideas. The Accelerator compresses years’ worth of learning-by-doing into just a few months.

Examples of new products and life changing programs

This year’s Spark-Seed-Spread investments include designing new products, such as a soft exoskeleton to improve trunk stability in Veterans with Spinal Cord Injury, a new reverse boom patient lift, and a disposable air pillow

Also included are investments for developing life changing programs like the virtual emergency room, virtual saliva testing for home-based treatment of opioids, and cycling program for Veterans with paralysis.

When asked what being part of Spark-Seed-Spread means, one new investee responded, “I have support from a large and diverse group of creative individuals, leaders from both within and outside VA, and mentors. They help guide me to a successful innovation to make the care we provide better for those we serve.”

You can find a list of this year’s Spark-Seed-Spread investments and investees on the VHA Innovators Network website.

Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network and Communications Lead for the VHA Innovation Ecosystem. She has worked within various parts of the Veterans Health Administration for 10 years.

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Published on Oct. 1, 2020

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