In late December 2020, the (VHA) Innovators Network (iNET) launched a new collaborative initiative, the Greenhouse. The Greenhouse is an opportunity for the health care innovation community to collaborate with iNET sites throughout the country at the earliest stages of innovation, so they can receive input from Veterans and employees to impact solutions aimed to improve Veteran care.

Through the Greenhouse, external innovators work with iNET to share early-stage innovative product designs to receive invaluable end-user feedback from Veteran and employee stakeholders. They develop a functional prototype or further refine existing prototypes and conduct small-scale product user experience (UX) testing with appropriate end-users within the VHA.

Very quickly, the Greenhouse blossomed. Over 135 external start-ups, entrepreneurs and companies applied to collaborate with iNET. This was not including the 200+ applicants to the first VHA Innovation Experience series event, the Breaking Boundaries Collaboration Challenge, with Founder Institute.

“These kinds of opportunities seldom happen outside VA.”

Competition is tough. Only 36 applicants have been selected thus far to collaborate with VA and start those crucial conversations with employees and Veterans.

“From my background in product design and user experience, these kinds of opportunities for employees to have a critical role in building new tech that impacts their work seldom happen at other institutions and health systems outside VA,” said Brent Aguilar, an innovation specialist at San Francisco VA.

Greenhouse projects are truly collaborative on every level. Innovators applying must have an innovation at the earliest stages of the design process. Here are three of the Greenhouse projects establishing the standard for collaborative innovation:

Wareologie: In 2020, a team designed a novel portable parallel physical therapy (PT) bar device as part of a challenge. This novel device is a PT tool that can be easily moved to different rooms, transported in homecare vehicles and more. This is the first functional prototype to be co-designed and invested in by iNET through the Greenhouse Initiative.

RIF Robotics: The collaboration with RIF Robotics differed from most other Greenhouse projects currently in progress with iNET. It was purely about discovery. RIF aims to learn and understand the pain points and inefficiencies related to reusable and single-use equipment by observing Sterile Processing Service and Operating Room processes.

The RIF Robotics team visited three separate VA medical centers to perform interviews and design research.

Helping Veterans comfortably age in place

Oath Homecare: Oath Homecare, Veteran owned and operated, is helping Veterans to comfortably age in place through the “Oath Discovery and Design Collaboration.” Oath understands that homecare may be a confusing journey for Veterans and their caregivers, and it is actively addressing this need through a digital platform to connect Veterans and Providers.

Experts across four iNET sites work as a cohort to review current Oath products and digital services, provide feedback through meetings and surveys, and then test the newly designed VHA-focused prototype experience.

The Greenhouse has been an amazing new opportunity to engage VA frontline staff in the process of innovation. VA is only getting started on building this Initiative and reaping the benefits of both collaborative solutions being developed and the impact on frontline employee culture.

Learn more about the Greenhouse on the Greenhouse Initiative webpage for more information.

By Allison Amrhein is the director of operations for the VHA Innovators Network and communications lead for the VHA Innovation Ecosystem

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Published on Dec. 29, 2021

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