In a new Harvard Business School course on public entrepreneurship,Mitchell B. Weiss
explores how fresh thinkers can work with-and within-the halls of government.
Mitchell B. Weiss
has heard it too many times: government doesn't work.
Too burdened by procurement rules and performance measures.
"Some of that is fair, and some of that is unfair, but it adds up over time," says Weiss, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School who has created a new MBA course, Public Entrepreneurship.
"The course allows students to consider the alternative that government can work-or they can help make it work."
"WE HAVE MANY TALENTED PEOPLE IN GOVERNMENT
, BUT BY AND LARGE THEY HAVE TENDED TO BE ANALYSTS AND STRATEGISTS, RATHER THAN INVENTORS AND BUILDERS"
Once chief of staff to the late Boston mayor Thomas Menino, Weiss isn't just engaging in wishful thinking.
Weiss co-founded the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, which among other projects produced the nation's first big-city 311 app that allows citizens to alert government to potholes and graffiti.
also helped cut through zoning laws to create the Boston Innovation District on a vast and underdeveloped swath of waterfront in South Boston, attracting hundreds of startups.
And when the 2013 Boston Marathon was attacked, Weiss helped establish the One Fund within 24 hours to serve as a central pool for donations to victims.
"The One Fund
ended up channeling $60 million to survivors and to the families of the victims in 75 days.
That speed is virtually unheard of," says Weiss
"The One Fund
team made it known we would proceed without nonprofit status rather than agree with its finding," Weiss
"We have many talented people in government, but by and large they have tended to be analysts and strategists, rather than inventors and builders," says Weiss
, who hopes his
course can help change that.
"There was this paradox-on the one hand, government is the biggest customer in the world; on the other hand, 90 out of 100 VCs would say they don't back business models that sell to government," says Weiss
"Though that's starting to change as startups and government are starting to change.
OpenGov received a $15 million round of funding last spring led by Andreessen Horowitz, and $17 million was pumped into civic social-networking app MindMixer last fall.
DOESN'T NEED TO BE PERFECT
Governments could attract even more capital by examining their procurement rules to speed buying, says Weiss
, giving them that same sense of urgency and lean startup practices needed to be successful in entrepreneurial projects.
"In government we announce something and wait to get it perfect.
By using more experimental approaches, some public leaders are achieving success by testing and learning instead of writing a plan in stone before executing it."
In the HBS case study More Citizens Connect, Weiss
details some of the learning challenges involved with Citizens Connect, the 311 app produced for Boston.
"But we must wrestle with the downsides of that, too," says Weiss
"Boston was one of the early cities where Uber
was allowed to operate.
I ask students whether they think we did the right thing."
Other aspects of working with government, such as requirements for openness and public scrutiny, could be seen as opportunities as much as impediments.
"Nowadays, companies are desperate to have a huge community of innovators looking at what they are doing and offering ideas," says Weiss
"For centuries government has naturally engaged people in what it is doing.
should be naturals at crowdsourcing."
In exploring these challenges and opportunities, Weiss believes the public entrepreneurship course can help make working in government a viable alternative for innovators looking to effect real change.
Noting that HBS
offered pioneering courses in private entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship, he
is hoping that eventually public entrepreneurship will be seen as just as legitimate a field of enterprise.
"For 200 years, we've had a sense of how private entrepreneurship creates and delivers value, and for the last 20 years, we've seen the development of the idea of social entrepreneurship," says Weiss