Community Story – Michael Hammett

Written by Sarah Waschler

Michael Hammett is the City of Phoenix’s first Chief Innovation Officer, having worked for the city since3 2006. Michael recently partnered with Venture Café Phoenix to deliver the city’s first Hackathon, which focused on access to chilled drinking water.

How did you hear about Venture Café?
My first experience with Venture Café was during the Electrify Phoenix event in June of 2022, that celebrated the transition to EV. The excitement and energy in the space was, well, electric – and I quickly wanted to learn more about this unique, global concept that is a magnet for local innovators and entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds, education and experience.

Have you had any memorable connections at Venture Café Phoenix?
We recently partnered with Venture Café Phoenix on the first Innovate PHX Challenge to address city challenges, with Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari. First, the team that powers Venture Café Phoenix are, themselves, entrepreneurs, innovators and authors inspiring other changemakers. It’s been great getting to know them and planning future opportunities to collaborate. And I’ve had great conversations with participants at several events. One that comes to mind is an engineering student here on a student VISA who was so happy to have found his place with other like-minded people. We talked about innovation internships at the city that he might consider. I met one attendee who has multiple ideas and businesses taking shape, while working a day job at a coffee shop. That is someone to watch. And through Venture Café, we have connected with local and national organizations working in the startup and entrepreneur space, which really shows the spirit of innovation – working together rather than competing with one another.

What inspires you?
We all have those great ideas that come to us in the middle of the night or during a run that we think might make Barbara or Daymond bite on ABC’s Shark Tank. But what really inspires me are the people who take that spark of an idea and actually run with it – advancing it through research, prototyping, testing, failure, and sometimes success. And it’s not the success that drives them, but often the failures — they keep pushing forward.

Tell us a little more about your current role with the City of Phoenix?
As Phoenix’s first Chief Innovation Officer, I lead the Phoenix City Manager’s Office of Innovation, a central hub for innovation and strategic use of data across the city. The office partners with city departments to test and pilot ideas to address the city’s top challenges; manages and advances data and performance dashboards; partners with national and global organizations including Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bloomberg Associates and Results for America to advance city priorities, and leads Smart Cities efforts, among others. I also represent Phoenix on the executive leadership team of The Connective Phoenix, a consortium of cities, universities and organizations working to transform the Valley into a model for what a smart region can be.

Can you discuss your experience at Venture Café Phoenix and any impact the event has had on your organization?
When we set out to develop the Innovate PHX Challenge, we looked for a partner organization that could help us realize our vision to engage the innovation community to address city challenges. Venture Café is led by innovators and entrepreneurs with a focus on equity and this really came through. Great ideas were generated, a diverse group of innovators was connected with the city and its priorities, and a new way of addressing challenges was set in motion. We look forward to continuing the partnership.

Any final thoughts on Venture Café Phoenix?
Venture Café Phoenix is a great space that brings together diverse participants with a shared passion for innovation, sharing new ideas, and collaborating for a better Phoenix and a better world. And you never know who you will see at a Venture Café event. I ran into my next-door neighbors and their teen daughter – a trio of tech entrepreneurs – who I found out are regulars at the Thursday night events!

Join the movement of innovators building the center of gravity here in the Valley. Join us every Thursday and meet people like Michael, 5-7 PM, free to attend, free parking, two free drinks.

Check out our upcoming programming and register here.

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