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Cisco unearths its inner startup culture via companywide innovation contest

Bob Brown | June 16, 2016
Nearly half of Cisco gets involved in Innovate Everywhere Challenge

cisco innovation challenge infog b 
Credit: Network World/Stephen Sauer

Those who took part were encouraged to fail fast, then quickly move on, all while keeping customer needs in mind as they developed their mainly B2B ideas. Broad company participation was encouraged by making plans available online for all employees to see, comment on and vote on, and by essentially gamifying the whole shebang. The company’s complementary online Cisco Innovation Academy website provided additional information about entrepreneurship and developing new ideas, and in fact, Cisco will be tweaking that website in light of what it’s learned during the challenge. 

Cisco saw the most participation in its challenge by members of its human resources teams, though Goryachev says those on the winning teams tended to hail from engineering/IT and sales. “That’s a really good combination because sales people are the closest to the customers and they can quickly gain business validation and obviously the engineering people understand our core portfolio and what we can build on top of that and the adjacencies,” he says.

Employees taking part in the challenge were given access to Cisco’s lite version of an Adobe Kickbox – dubbed an Adventure Kit 1 – and were guided through the process of identifying a problem and then coming up with possible solutions. Those ideas were vetted by a panel of judges and the masses within Cisco, and 15 semifinalists were chosen to take part in a 3-day workshop and access Adventure Kit 2, which included a $1,000 pre-paid credit card to fund minimum viable product, plus mentoring/coaching. During this Investigation phase of the competition, semifinalists pitched their ideas via video and slides, and were whittled down to 6, including 1 People’s Choice candidate.


In mid-April, three winners were selected following 5-minute live pitches, followed by

Q&A sessions, at Cisco headquarters in San Jose. Winning teams earned $25,000 in seed funding and another $25K in prizes, plus they were given an option of entering a full- or part-time innovation rotation program to last three months. Cisco worked with these teams to find possible fits within the company for their ideas, and set up concierge services to streamline access to IT, legal and other necessities.  One gratifying outcome for Goryachev is that so many of the winning teams’ members met online, and probably would not have interacted if not for the competition.

Winners of the first Cisco Innovate Everywhere Challenge were:

*Enterprise Virtual and Augmented Reality (EVAR): This team has designs on integrating third-party virtual and augmented reality technology with Cisco’s collaboration offerings such as Spark and Telepresence.

*LifeChanger: Focused on helping employers bring more disabled workers into the fold by enabling them to work remotely via Cisco collaboration technologies.


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