What's Happening This Week: 2/23/20

Hi, welcome to the Cleveland Tech newsletter. I talk about all things tech in the Cleveland community.

I wrote my latest column for Crain’s this week titled, “Getting Ohio to be No. 1 in innovation”.

Profile of the Week

Name: Catherine Tkachyk
Current Job: Chief Innovation & Performance Officer for Cuyahoga County
Favorite restaurant in town? There’s a lot, but Rocky River Wine Bar & Adega are some of my go-to places
Favorite thing about Cleveland? The various cultural amenities you can take advantage of at a free or reasonable price (Art museum, playhouse square, orchestra concerts).  In a lot of other cities, those amenities aren’t available at the caliber they are in Cleveland.

Q: Catherine, you started your career at the city of San Antonio, how'd you end up there? When I was finishing up my classes in grad school, I had planned to return to the Cleveland area.  But, I was looking across the country for potential jobs because I needed to complete a Fellowship to graduate my program.  The City of San Antonio had an 18-month Management Fellowship Program that provided the chance to work in different areas of the organization and access to key leaders.  When they offered me a role in that program, I took it and moved there.  I didn’t intend to stay in the area for as long as I did, but I was able to continue to get good opportunities for growth in the organization.  That kept me there much longer than the initial Fellowship.

Q: Can you talk about some of your accomplishments at San Antonio and your succession from special projects manager to innovation manager? One of the great things about the City of San Antonio organization is it provided opportunities for people to move throughout the organization into different roles.  I was there for just over 10 years, and in that time, I held six different full-time jobs as well as two special assignments.  It allowed me to learn about all aspects of the organization and grow professionally.

In San Antonio, I also had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects.  Some of the highlights include:

  1. SmartSA: I worked to create and implement San Antonio’s first formal Smart City Program, which included nine projects that focused on the areas of transportation, digital connected living and sustainability. 

  2. Pre-K 4 SA: In 2012, then San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro spearheaded a 1/8 cent sales tax increase to provide high quality, full-day pre-k for 22,400 four-year-olds over an eight-year period.  The sales tax initiative was passed in November, with the first two schools scheduled to open in the following August.  I was part of a team of five that oversaw the creation of those first two schools.

  3. I conducted and oversaw various process improvement projects resulting in direct savings to the City of over $2 million

Q: You ended up back in Ohio as the CIO of Cuyahoga County, why did you decide to move back and what are your roles and responsibilities at the County? I oversee the office of Innovation & Performance for Cuyahoga County.  We primarily focus on three areas for Cuyahoga County.  The first is process improvement.  As many people know, many processes in government can be difficult to navigate and include unnecessary steps.  My team is trained in Lean Six Sigma and works with departments to operate process improvement projects.  We also run the Cuyahoga County Innovation Academy which trains staff on Lean Six Sigma, Project Management and Change Management methodologies to conduct their own process improvement projects.  Second, we are focused on creating a more data-driven organization.  This includes the creation and publication of a quarterly public performance report, Cuyahoga Performance.  The report shares measures with the public from across various departments, historical data, and benchmarking with similar counties.  We work with departments to collect and release that report while also looking for opportunities to expand the data being reported and used to make decisions in the County.  Finally, we foster a culture of innovation at the County.  This includes looking for new ways to solve challenges, such as the Startup in Residence Program and launching The Lab @ Cuyahoga County to support local businesses and entrepreneurs.

Q: One accomplishment at the CIO's office is the launch of the Lab, can you talk more about that project? The Lab @ Cuyahoga County is a program focused on supporting our local businesses and entrepreneurs.   We typically think of support from government only as dollars but we, as a county, have a lot of assets that we can make available to the community, and that’s what this program does.  It turns the County into a testbed to allow local businesses and entrepreneurs to put their products and services into a real-world environment to see if they work.

Two different tracks allow participants to utilize the benefits of The Lab: the Product Ideation track supports those in the beginning stages who need additional information and expertise to develop a product or service, and the Product Validation Track supports businesses and entrepreneurs in the validation stage who need to test their product or service before launch.

In this first year of the program, we are lucky to have some great partners in the Cleveland Metroparks, Cuyahoga County Public Library, NOACA, and Cleveland Public Library.  Members of our entrepreneurial ecosystem, have also been a great resource, providing us with feedback on program design and space to meet with entrepreneurs. 

From a timeline perspective, we are in the early stages of evaluating proposals.  Applications closed on February 7 and we were thrilled to have 31 proposals submitted.  Over the next few months, we will be selecting our first cohort, standing up pilots, and kicking things off in April.  

Q: Innovation & government aren’t normally thought of together. If you want to be creative and innovative, why do you work in government? Government can be frustrating, especially when it isn’t working well for the people that live in an area or work for the organization.  Those are the exact problems and challenges I get to work on. Solving the problems in government takes creativity and innovation. They also take patience and a willingness to work as a team, nothing is a solo endeavor.  These things appeal to me.  Additionally, working in local government is what I love to do.  I get to work every day to try to make the place where I live better for the people in my community.  I’m not always successful at it, but that’s my goal.  And, for me, that’s not a bad way to spend a day. 

Follow Catherine on Twitter @CHtkachyk.

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About The Author

My name is Ari Lewis. I’m the co-founder of OhioX, a nonprofit organization that represents and connects those committed to growing Ohio’s economy through technology and innovation. I’m also the co-founder of GreenBlock Group, a strategic communications and innovation consultancy firm. Follow me on twitter @amlewis4 or connect with me on LinkedIn. Always open to meeting new folks. Email me if you want to get coffee.

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