I didn’t set out to build a company that was focused on Creating a Modern, Digital Government. That wasn’t even a thing in my mind when I started CollabraLink. My first instinct was survival.
In 2008, as an upstart Chicago-based Commercial IT shop focused on process automation, we showed some early success with contract wins at Motorola and Bank of America. Little did we know the worst economic recession in decades was lurking just around the corner. The U.S. housing bubble burst and The Great Recession rolled through, halting our projects mid-stream and without warning. As 2009 came to an end, my world had been turned upside down. The monthly invoice payments stopped and I could literally count down the number of months of cash we had left in the bank. At one point I started calculating it in terms of the number of days we had left before we were insolvent. All I could think about was “How do I keep this company alive? How do I find a way to still be around next week, next month, next quarter?” Survival was a huge motivating factor, to say the least. My choice was either to find new opportunities for our young company or go find a new career.
I looked deep inside myself to consider the next move for CollabraLink. The more I pondered, the more I realized that the US Federal Government was heavily process-oriented with antiquated legacy systems in need of replacement. On top of this they were the biggest customer in the entire world and still had ample budget despite the recession. It was clear to me that in order to survive as a company we needed to find a way to penetrate the Federal marketplace.
I had a new mission – bring commercial cutting-edge technology solutions to the Federal sector. I started commuting from Chicago to DC to get in front of potential customers and spent 3 years couch-surfing before I could justify a more permanent relocation. A combination of serendipity mixed with the right capabilities and perseverance led to early success. When CollabraLink began on those first few projects, it was affirmed that the U.S. government had a tremendous need for cutting-edge software solutions to enable more efficient operations and a more engaging service delivery to the citizens of this country.
Things began moving really quickly – and soon for me, CollabraLink was a blur of very tactical activity focused around growth, scaling, hiring, building technical talent, and building relationships with our customers. It was, quite literally, all-consuming. Candidly, it felt like there was no time for higher-order thinking – or anything strategic. I remember thinking ‘I need to focus on strategy’ and not even knowing what that truly meant for having been buried in the tactical execution.
Without me even realizing it, however – a very distinct pattern began to emerge: the programs we were involved with and responsible for modernizing had a massive Human Impact. First, we built a case management system that standardized the way wounded soldiers were cared for when they left the war theater, which was eventually used by over 50,000 soldiers! We then modernized the website used by parents and students across the country to learn about college loan programs, apply for aid, and manage their loans, allowing for better access to loan resources to students and borrowers nationwide. We built the application through which Grants are applied for and administered to support local school districts with concentrations of children who reside on Indian lands, military bases, low-rent housing properties. Our team has been modernizing the system through which State Medicaid offices submit data to CMS, which drives funding and policy for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance programs. Recently we supported awards of nearly $25 billion in federal funding for CARES Act to help transit agencies prevent, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is to name just a few of the programs CollabraLink has been involved with over the years.
At CollabraLink we are touching things that really have an impact in people’s lives across this country. This impact is tangible and easy to see. Never before have I been involved in IT programs that could so directly move the needle on people’s lives. On top of all of this we oftentimes are supporting programs that touch marginalized or underserved communities. I have developed a passion for the idea of driving Human Impact via technology solutions – I personally find it satisfying and hugely motivating. The realm of Civic Tech – the use of technology to directly improve or influence governance – has become my passion. It wasn’t overnight – it was organic, and truthfully it wasn’t part of the plan when I started CollabraLink.
This notion of Civic Tech is now the foundation of CollabraLink’s Mission: To Create a Modern, Digital Government. Technology can democratize the way government services are consumed. When wielded correctly, it can be used as a great equalizer – delivering the government to the citizens of this country in an egalitarian fashion. No special treatment for those who know the ropes, or those who understand how to navigate the system. Technology and the extent to which we can digitize the delivery and consumption of government services can level the playing field. This is needed more than ever today. The function of government, as we’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, is more important than ever. The ability for it to function seamlessly and without bias is paramount. We can enable this to happen. We can drive this forward. We can Create a Modern, Digital Government – for all.