Starting a company!

Over the years, we at Inc. have periodically asked entrepreneurs to propose solutions to the society's big problems. It's a fun exercise, but the suggestions we elicit--Get rid of the post office!--are often too radical to make their way into the political debate. But the fantasy of letting entrepreneurs fix our government is starting to look more realistic, as I'm learning at the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, DC. (I'll be on a panel tomorrow, talking about Inc.'s experiment in working virtually, a topic that's of great interest here thanks to the debilitating snowstorms last winter.)

In a keynote this morning, O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly trumpeted a shift in government that he compared to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and the institution of the Marshall Plan: Namely, turning government into a platform for innovation.

O'Reilly, who I profile in Inc.'s May issue, told attendees, many of whom are employees of government agencies, that they should give citizens ways to improve government services that go beyond "shaking the vending machine," by which he means complaining loudly, but often without affect. Instead, O'Reilly suggested that the U.S. government make it easy for entrepreneurs to develop applications that improve or enhance things it already does--in the same way that privately owned weather websites use data from the National Weather Service. He envisions an entrepreneurial ecosytem that resembles Apple's App Store.

So far most of the government apps seem modest in scope (think: Mapping crime reports or finding out when the next train will come), but O'Reilly suggested that this is only the beginning and that the approach can work for big problems like rising health care costs, poorly performing schools, and climate change.

Here's the talk. If you're an entrepreneur, I promise it'll get you more fired up than any Tea Party: