If you're on the city of Los Angeles's payroll with a bright idea about how to make the city work better, there's now a million dollars waiting to help make that happen.
On Thursday, Los Angeles announced that it has launched what it called an "in-house venture capital fund" stocked with general city funds as part of the recently passed budget. As of now, city employees apply for an uncapped portion of the $1 million available through Innovate.LAcity.org.
The ideas will be evaluated by city officials, including representatives of the mayor's office. They will be looking, the city says, for plans that are both original and achievable: proposed innovations should be capable of being both implemented and evaluated within a year of funding.
Los Angeles, say city officials, will be looking for creative insights like the one cited by Mayor Eric Garcetti in his 2014 State of the City speech: One parks employee, frustrated that the air conditioner ran all night in his local gym, bought parts and installed a switch-and-timer to control it. Such "Red Buttons" have since become an official city program.
"People in any organization are often thinking, 'You know, I have a good idea about how to change this or that,' " says Abhi Nemani, the city's chief data officer. "But often they don't have the leadership or buy-in from their employer to get it done."
The city of Los Angeles's internal innovation fund fits into a broader trend: putting private industry's tools and techniques for generating innovation to work in the the public sector. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services runs a "Shark Tank"-style competition among its 90,000 employees. And September saw the launch of a $23 million venture capital fund focused solely at backing companies aimed at improving government IT.