Q&A with Former U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra


Aneesh Chopra is the former (and first) U.S. Chief Technology Officer and is co-founder and executive VP of Hunch Analytics.

We sat down with Chopra to hear his insights on the intersection of entrepreneurship and government, how the role of CTO has evolved, and tips for digital health startups.

You were the first CTO of the United States. What did being appointed to that position mean to you? How do you think the position/role has changed?

It was an incredible honor on a personal level, for sure, but I’d prefer to reflect on the role itself. Creating it was a clear statement by the President of the United States that the country needs to better harness the full power and potential of technology, data and innovation to both grow the economy and help solve some of our biggest challenges, including healthcare. As an advisor to the President, I had focused on three areas – ensuring we had sufficient “21st Century” infrastructure, most notably through the passage of the National Wireless Initiative which dramatically expanded capacity for mobile broadband (spectrum) and fostered new innovative business models (sharing). Second, we worked to advise on rules of the road that promote entrepreneurship, most notably the public/private partnership on Startup America and the passage of the JOBS Act, which among other things, will jump-start securities-based crowdfunding. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, it was to rethink the relationship between the government and the public by focusing on a set of “open innovation” practices – opening up government data, convening the private sector on standards, issuing prizes and challenges to tap a broader talent pool, and launching a set of “lean government startups” to solve well-defined problems in an agile manner. See more here.

Under my (brilliant) successor’s leadership, we’ve seen the CTO role scale on many levels – Todd Park has institutionalized the culture of “lean government startup” through the Presidential Innovation Fellows program; he’s tapped top talent from across the agencies to replicate the Health Data Initiative across a growing number of policy verticals; and he’s recruited some of the most impressive people on the planet to drive concrete results across the board, including Jen Pahlka of Code for America.

Bottom line – given the bipartisan nature of the agenda, and the early impact it has had on stimulating better public/private collaboration in areas like open data, I have confidence the role will continue regardless of whomever follows President Obama.

What lessons did you learn from your bid for Lieutenant Governor? How did that process influence your decision to start a company instead of pursuing a career in politics?

I’d start by sharing the context for my run. My view is that the next decade will see incredible progress in areas where innovation is needed most – health and education. But that the source of that progress will be new products and services born out of better public/private collaboration rather than some type of ideological “battle royale”. And since states regulate those markets, I felt that I could have a bigger impact by elevating its importance as a statewide elected official focused on the long-term success of the Commonwealth (our state has a one term limit for Governor).

Though I came up short in my election, I remain focused on that hypothesis, albeit from the private sector.

What is your advice for startups looking to sell their product into hospitals?

First of all, I would be clear as to the problem I was trying to solve, and to find the individual in the organization that stands to gain the most by solving it (conversely, whose pain is alleviated the most!). Be prepared or a longer sales cycle, but with the advantage of working in a sector where even the 1,000th largest potential customer would have the resources to purchase (and benefit from) your product.

Who makes purchasing decisions in hospitals? Who should founders be talking to, and how do they find these people?

Like most complex, large-scale organizations, there isn’t a clear answer. The traditional hospital executive suite has been focused on a set of well-known problems for years, but given the magnitude of change in the industry, we are starting to see the emergence of a number of new C-suite executives empowered to prepare the organization for a value-based reimbursement environment. These leaders carry titles like Chief Medical Information Officer, or head of Population Health. If you follow the Gretsky mantra, you skate to where the puck is heading (population/pay for value), and the leaders committed to getting there!

Aneesh Chopra is the former (and first) U.S. Chief Technology Officer. As an Assistant to the President, he designed the National Wireless Initiative, helped launch Startup America, and executed an “open innovation” strategy across the government built on private sector collaboration – opening up data, convening on standards and staffing “lean government startups.” His forthcoming book, “Innovative State: How New Technologies can Transform Government” focuses on how we can tap entrepreneurial problem solvers to address challenges in health, energy and education markets among other public and regulated sectors.

Chopra is currently the co-founder and executive VP of Hunch Analytics, a startup focused on improving the productivity of public and regulated sectors of the economy through data analytics. In 2011, Chopra was named to Modern Healthcare’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare (#39) and in 2008, to Government Technology magazine’s Top 25 in their Doers, Dreamers, and Drivers issue. Chopra earned his master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University in 1997 and his bachelor’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University in 1994.