Coloradans talk "innovation nation" at the White House

Colorado leaders in business, policy, technology and education met with federal policy experts Tuesday to brainstorm ways for Colorado to take the lead in the successful formation of an “innovation nation,” Colorado Technology Association’s CEO Erik Mitisek says.

Covering the TechHire initiative and grant program ― a multi-sector effort and call-to-action to give Americans training and pathways to sustainable jobs in technology ― cyber security and more, the Coloradans met with the various offices within the White House. The meetings took place the day that President Barack Obama sent his administration’s annual budget proposal to Congress, which includes $19 billion for a broad cyber security plan.

That represents a 35 percent increase, according to JB Holston, Dean of the University of Denver’s Daniel Felix Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“The White House is looking to the states to help influence how to solve massive problems,” Mitisek said after Tuesday’s meetings and events. “Sometimes it takes going outside of the state to realize the work we’re already achieving.”

A key takeaway from the national conversations was that cyber security is going to grow increasingly mainstream, Mitisek said, adding that Colorado is poised to take a leadership role in that industry because of critical and concentrated federal infrastructure already housed in the state.

Holston agreed that cyber security poses great potential for the local economy. “In the context of what’s going on in Colorado, on an academic level, DU’s got a new computer science and engineering one-year Master’s in cyber security,” he said.  “We’re really on a mission to connect DU to the ecosystem. We’ve identified cyber security as an emerging cluster and brought together people from industry, academia and government in an intentional effort to coalesce this industry. There are between 8,000 and 12,000 open cyber security jobs in the state.”


(From left) itriage CTO Patrick Leonard; CTA CEO Erik Mitisek; Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy; CTA COO Wendy Nkomo; JB Holston, Dean of DU's Ritchie School of Engineering and Computer Science.



Holston added that an actionable take-away from the White House experience included the necessity for “humble bragging” in Colorado to tout accomplishments in the local marketplace. 

“Colorado has a phenomenal story,” Holston said. “There’s real alignment here between government and business. There’s support for innovation and entrepreneurship here, and in terms of the cybersecurity work-force development, we have some great initiatives.

The Colorado team was prompted to share their priorities for the final year of the Obama administration and encouraged to go for big asks.

Patrick Leonard, CTO of iTriage and Aetna Innovation & Digital Products, said that two major priorities for his industry and individual team were to move away from Social Security numbers as personal markers and talk about identity management more generally to link physical and digital experiences in health care.

Leonard, who focuses in part on security within the health-tech space, said that during his tenure at iTriage, he has watched the health care industry start to “figure out it needs to change” and credited the Obama Administration for much of that.

Stephanie Donner, chief legal counsel for Galvanize and the former chief counsel for Gov. John Hickenlooper, said she joined the Colorado consortium to help tie her team to cybersecurity issues and grow collaborative involvement with the TechHire initiative, to help most efficiently use Colorado’s share of funds from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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