More than ever, we, Cisco, believe in the power of technology to solve global problems. In recent history, never have we been more in need of innovative technology solutions that positively impact nearly every aspect of society. From public health and food systems to the world of work and unemployment, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the global landscape. Over 1.3 million people have lost their lives. Borders have been closed and economies have plummeted, putting as many as 150 million people at risk of falling into extreme poverty and nearly half of the world’s 3.3 billion global workforce at risk of losing their livelihoods.

To help accelerate tech for good solutions that address the challenges created by the pandemic, the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021 has added a special Pandemic Response Prize. The Pandemic Response Prize will be awarded to a startup responding to COVID-19 or future pandemic crises. The winning team will have an innovative technology solution that accelerates the response to, or recovery from, COVID-19 and its physical, social, or economic impact. The winner of the Pandemic Response Prize will be awarded $50,000 USD to accelerate the development of their solution.

Given the far-reaching impacts of the pandemic, we strongly encourage startups to submit a wide range of early-stage technology solutions, in addition to solutions responding directly to health risks. For example, solutions that address social isolation, help people start small businesses, expedite job creation, or enhance food security. Participation is open to individuals, teams, or business entities globally.

I had the opportunity to catch up with the founders of two past Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge winner companies, OmniVis and Caeli, who are each developing innovative solutions to help combat COVID, to learn about their solutions and how winning the Challenge has helped advance their missions.

Katherine Clayton, PhD, co-founder and CEO of OmniVis in the lab
Katherine Clayton, co-founder and CEO of OmniVis, discussing their technology

“Our voice was able to reach a very wide audience. Not only do you get showcased at industry conferences, but Cisco also posts about you on their social media channels. And it’s not just a one-time thing. – It’s awesome to know somebody is by your side,” says Katherine Clayton, PhD, co-founder and CEO of OmniVis. “Our new COVID-19 solution makes testing for the virus easier and more accessible than ever before. All the testing is conducted on our portable, handheld device, which is a miniature laboratory that allows medical professionals to rapidly detect dangerous pathogens in any setting. We anticipate getting FDA approval in early 2021.”

“The funds from our recent win of Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge India Impact People’s Caeli masksChoice Award provided the push required for the launch of our first product into the market. The prize money was invested directly into the manufacturing of the products and we are very excited that we will share our innovation with the people during this global pandemic when masks have become necessity,” says Aakash Bhadana, co-founder and technology lead at Caeli. “When the pandemic broke out, we started working on a mask that provides efficient protection against germs and bacteria, and also has some sanitization properties. Prevention is better than cure, and because masks are the protection gear advised by health experts – we are offering a mask that is re-usable, comfortable, while keeping affordability in check.”

The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge judges and I can hardly wait to see this year’s submissions. Every year, we are so inspired by the quality of the solutions submitted and by the power of technology to solve the world’s toughest challenges.

Interested? Apply to win!

If you have an innovative solution that you think could win the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021 Pandemic Response Prize, please visit our website to register and learn more about the application process. The application deadline is January 29, 2021 at 5 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.



Shawna Darling

CSR Programs Development Manager

Corporate Affairs