Direct messaging: Carla Briceno
CEO and co-founder, Bixal
- Carla Briceno
- CEO, Bixal
July 12, 2022
How did you get started in civic tech?
My husband and co-founder, Jose, and I made the decision back in the 2007 timeframe to start building Bixal with the goal of using our experience in design, communications, and technology to do work where we could make a difference in people’s lives.
In the early days, it was just the two of us identifying opportunities and pulling together teams to respond to opportunities. We started off working with nonprofit organizations and multilateral agencies such as the Inter-American Development Bank, which allowed us to gain valuable experience as we began to pursue opportunities with the federal government.
In 2010, we got our 8(a) small business certification and won our first prime contract to work on a financial literacy initiative for the U.S. Treasury in 2011. Over the years, we have been able to grow, learn and build on each successful engagement in the federal space.
As we have grown and continue to evolve into a more mature enterprise that offers a full suite of digital services, ranging from human-centered design, data science and measurement to modernized learning, software engineering and cloud computing, we have always remained resolute in our focus to identify and pursue opportunities where we can have a positive impact on people’s lives.
This focus on pursuing impactful work has allowed us to attract many talented, kind and collaborative team members who share our passion for using their energies to make the world a better place.
What drives you to do the work you do?
What gets me up and going every day – and has since we started investing energy in building Bixal – is the opportunity to positively impact people’s lives at scale by working with our federal partners.
Years ago, I served as a Peace Corp volunteer in rural Guatemala. That was a very formative experience for me and has greatly impacted my life and career decisions since. Having the opportunity to live and work side by side with families who are getting by on the equivalent of three dollars a day really helped me understand why people make the difficult decision to risk their lives to come to the United States.
This is one of the reasons why, at Bixal, we seek to be of service to underserved and hard-to-reach communities.
What advice do you have for other business leaders working with (or who want to work with) government?
Working in the federal space is not easy for numerous reasons. Learning how to make connections and win opportunities requires a great deal of time and energy. And doing the work can be hard.
It takes a great deal of determination, patience, creativity, and resilience to be successful in this space.
I believe that what we refer to as our people absolutely-first approach, where we prioritize both the needs of the people who seek the information and services our federal clients provide and our Bixal team members, has been key to our growth and success. I recommend that business leaders focus on helping the government understand and develop solutions tailored to the unique needs of the audiences they serve by consistently applying HCD-led approaches.
As partners to the government, we have the opportunity to make the world a more inclusive and accessible place for millions of people and that opportunity should not be wasted.
What’s the best scenario for how government can work with industry partners?
I believe that the best scenario for how government can work with industry partners is by adopting procurement practices that allow us to bring our best to the table, including involving us earlier in the acquisitions process, allowing us to be actively involved in solutioning to help them meet their objectives, i.e., using statements of objectives as opposed to statements of work, and adopting more agile and product-focused practices.
More broadly, I am encouraged by Office of Management and Budget’s efforts to reinforce the importance of dialogue through their continuance of the Mythbusters campaign - even across Administrations.
This is evidence that our government partners understand change is happening fast and asynchronously, and we need more modes of real-time interaction to harness what’s working and reduce the burden on contracting teams.
Most importantly, I believe that our collective work to improve the federal customer experience and agencies’ ability to meet the needs of our diverse and growing nation should be guided by the Administration’s most recent Executive Order, which directs federal agencies to put people at the center of everything the government does.
You’re high-energy and have an entrepreneur’s sense of purpose, but are still very grounded and empathetic. What’s your secret?
Thank you for those kind words. I’d say it’s a combination of coffee and meditation! I start my day with twenty minutes of meditation and then head straight for the coffee.
I am originally from California, so readers may not be surprised to find out that I believe in the power of visualizing the change you want to see in this world, documenting that change - in whatever form is most appropriate - to use as your North Star. Over the years, we have been able to do this as a team at Bixal, and it has been an incredibly powerful practice to guide our efforts and direct our energies.
I feel incredibly fortunate that we have been able to attract so many talented people to join us on this journey. I see my role as a servant leader, to support them and provide them the space to use their talents and energies to do impactful work. That’s what gives me so much energy.
I’m not a big believer in hierarchy. I think we are all just human, that we are connected, and that as individuals and communities we have the power to do very good things.
The meditation helps me focus on key priorities, live more in the present moment, and stay centered during the ups and downs that come with managing a growing mission-focused small business.