U.S. Deputy CTO Looking for a Few Good Data Fellows in Boston

Nick Sinai is coming back to Boston. The Harvard University grad and former Polaris Partners venture capitalist is in town Thursday for an evening event at hack/reduce, the big-data workspace in Cambridge, MA.

Sinai is U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House, where he has served for the past three years. His specialties include startups, broadband communications, energy, and open data. He’s looking to promote the next round of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, during which entrepreneurs serve in the U.S. government for six months or more.

The goal is to stimulate entrepreneurship within the federal government—and to translate that into economic growth. The program’s overarching aims are to boost U.S. competitiveness and to create new jobs, products, and services for citizens.

The Presidential Innovation Fellows program started in August 2012 under U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park (who’s also from Boston). The goal, as Park told us then, was “to bring in amazing entrepreneurs and innovators from outside government into government—for focused tours of duty.”

The first class of fellows started in 2012, working on five projects in areas like open data, electronic payments, and platforms for startups and government to work together. The second class got going in June 2013 with nine more projects. Applications for the third fellowship class are due April 7.

A major initiative for the incoming fellows is “data innovation”—and that’s what Sinai is talking about at hack/reduce. (The subtitle is “Unleashing the power of data resources to improve Americans’ lives.”) There will be eight projects within this initiative, and they will entail working with agencies including NASA, the Department of Energy, the IRS, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

In Boston, which Sinai calls his “adopted hometown,” the program is trying to find “talented, diverse individuals from the innovation community” to pair up with top government scientists and workers.

“We’re looking for people with a wide range of skills and experiences—and are especially focused on entrepreneurs, data scientists, and tech-savvy designers that are interested in transforming how government works for the people it serves,” Sinai says.

The data initiative aims to make information more accessible and usable for both agency workers and the public—to give people more efficient and secure access to data on their personal health, say, or energy usage. If successful, the online tools produced might be able to help families find the right healthcare provider, the right college for their kids, or the right level of electricity or water use for their households.

It’s still too early to gauge how broadly successful the fellowship program will be. But it seems like a step in the right direction. A White House fact sheet points to a number of strides being made in open government, health records, energy usage, and other areas supported by the fellows.

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