3 Things I Learned Serving as a 22-year-old Entrepreneur-In-Residence for the U.S. Government

My post serving as one of five entrepreneurs in residence for the U.S. Government ended in May. It was a huge (and surreal) honor, and a learning experience that still hasn’t fully digested. I’ve been writing and will continue writing about the experience, but here are three quick takeaways:

  1. D.C. may be full of hot air, but many of its leaders know what they’re doing and don’t get enough credit. I was blown away by the open-minded, outcomes-oriented, bipartisan approaches of leaders at the White House and Homeland Security. The Administration is serious about infusing bureaucracy with entrepreneurialism, and its actions speak louder than any words you’ll hear or read in the media.
  2. Government needs more entrepreneurs. Many of government’s problems stem from an overpopulation of lawyers (naturally risk-averse) and lifetime politicians (naturally short-termist). Where are all the engineers, scientists, designers, artists, doctors, and social entrepreneurs? The leverage our program had with only five private/social-sector entrepreneurs working within an agency of government natives was huge: the program’s success inspired the launch of the Presidential Innovation Fellows, which now operates across multiple departments of the federal government.
  3. Young people can make an impact, even in big organizations. We hear a lot of glory tales about young people starting billion dollar tech companies, but we don’t hear nearly as much about young people making an impact from the inside out at large institutions. But if your heart’s in the right place, if you respect the system in which you’re working, if you’re willing to observe and listen before speaking, and you know your objective, change is possible. I was by far the youngest, least accomplished, and by many measures least intelligent person on the EIR team, but I was able to contribute value by understanding why I’d been selected (relative expertise on foreign immigration systems, experience interning for startups on multiple continents, direct access to the youth segment of the project’s target population), and then contributing to the team in a way that only a young person could (asking dumb questions, challenging assumptions, offering youth perspective, surveying university-age peers) . The decisions that large organizations make today will affect young people tomorrow, so young people should be involved in those decisions.