We recently announced the launch of our fifth annual Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge, with prize money totaling $1 million USD. The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge is a competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage technology entrepreneurs solving the world’s social and environmental problems.


The great abolitionist Harriet Tubman once said, “Every great dream begins with a dreamer.”

This is what drives more than 290,000 students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the United States. When other institutions in the U.S. were off-limits to many aspiring Black scholars in the early and middle 20th century, graduates from these colleges and universities helped launch the civil rights movement and built the foundation for the Black middle class.

Now, HBCUs account for 80 percent of Black judges, 50 percent of Black lawyers and doctors, and 25 percent of Black students that earn STEM degrees in the U.S.

Cisco works to help stoke the imaginations for a new generation for HBCU students, exposing them to a set of new opportunities to fuel their dreams … and make them a reality.


This year, Cisco is offering a HBCU Startup Prize for entrepreneurs from HBCUs. And as a proud alum of North Carolina Central University, I am here for ALL of it!

The HBCU Startup Prize will be awarded to a team with at least one founder who is an HBCU student or graduate and who presents an innovative technology solution that addresses a social or environmental problem.

This $50,000 USD prize is offered by Cisco’s Employee Resource Organizations (which provide a platform for diverse groups of employees to connect, build powerful new relationships, explore their unique passions and talents, innovate, and excel) and supports our commitment to the strategic recovery, sustainability, and legacy of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

I have spent the last eight years helping others here at Cisco build bridges between our company and often overlooked institutions, like many HBCUs. Despite such historic luminaries as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Mary McCleod Bethune, and Thurgood Marshall having received their educations at HBCUs, they were often eclipsed by other institutions. My team and I know, however, that there are bright students and minds at this schools. We strive to support professional development activities through HBCUs, such as looking at resumes, doing mock interviews, and speaking with students.

I even once drove all the way from Orlando FL to my office in Research Triangle Park, NC to support a student who was participating in Cisco’s day-long Sales interviews.

During my collegiate experience, I didn’t have a mentor, so I understand the value having someone to be present during a challenging interview. So, it’s a real understatement for me to say that I am excited to see our company stoking enthusiasm for our HBCUs.

I am also thrilled for this innovation challenge because we are looking to drive engagement in another type of HBCU graduate … the entrepreneur. I believe that coming to work for an organization like Cisco can be a game-changer, especially as a first role. And I will continue to encourage all that are interested to do so. In addition, igniting and sustaining the entrepreneurial fires of a young HBCU graduate nicely aligns with Cisco’s own roots.

It is my hope that this competition encourages some contestants to follow in the footsteps of other illustrious HBCU alums: Earl Graves, graduate of Morgan State and founder of Black Enterprise Magazine. The great Oprah Winfrey received her education at Tennessee State University. Will Packer got his start at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and went on to found and head a multi-million-dollar production company. Janice Bryant Howroyd, the founder of Act 1 Staffing (one of the largest staffing companies in the U.S.), learned the ropes of entrepreneurship at North Carolina A&T State University. Serial entrepreneur Sean “Puffy” Combs went to Howard University. And the glass ceiling-shattering and history-making Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is a proud graduate of Howard University.


There is so much more to this competition than winning a prize (although $50,000 is quite nice).

We live in a very interesting time in our country’s history. We are facing a global pandemic that has led to a catastrophic loss of life, resulting in a devastating effect on our economy. There is historic social unrest and a corresponding focus on social justice from all sectors of our society.

The participants of this year’s Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge have a unique opportunity to not only flex their entrepreneurial muscles but make their voices heard in a variety of meaningful ways. From my perspective, this tumultuous time is the best time for Black entrepreneurs to show resilience and a strong spirit of innovation. This award continues the legacy of a community that has always made a “way out of no way.”

I am excited about the partnerships formed in and through Cisco as we launch off in this direction. These sorts of corporate initiatives don’t happen by themselves. I have been fortunate to work with a great group of “Ciscoans” that stepped up to support these efforts without hesitation.

It is times like this that Dr. King’s words ring even more clearly, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” True word. This challenge is our opportunity to build and strengthen that “network.”

Interested? Apply to win!

If you have an innovative solution that you think could win the Cisco Global Problem Solver 2021 HBCU Startup 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. PT.



Scott McGregor

Director, Social Justice Action Office

Social Impact Office