I’m in Vienna this week at the Pioneers Festival, which describes itself as “the epicenter of innovation.” Surrounded by 2,500 technology pioneers, including 500 of some of the world’s most promising early-stage startups, I definitely feel the seismic disruption all around me.

I can’t think of a better ground zero for Cisco to blast off our third annual Innovation Grand Challenge – in front of an inspired, AQ81814worldwide startup community at the stately Hofburg Imperial Palace. We love the energy and optimism of the Pioneers Festival!  In the past two years, we chose this venue to kick off and announce winners of Cisco’s Entrepreneurs in Residence program, and this year we’re holding the Challenge Up! IoT Accelerator program for startups here along with our partners, Intel and Deutsche Telekom.

Today, we’re also charging up the end-to-end, network of entrepreneurial talent with this year’s launch of the Innovation Grand Challenge. We’re calling on all innovators, entrepreneurs, developers, researchers and students to submit disruptive ideas for digital transformation in industry and government.

Our excitement will build through the rest of this year as we discover the next game-changing solutions that can improve productivity and quality of life all around us. From now until early November, we will receive thousands of submissions, evaluate them, stage live competitions, and finally declare three winners at the Web Summit in Lisbon.

Let the global Challenge begin!

We’re searching the world over for the most disruptive technologies, solutions, services or business models that harness the power of Cisco’s digital platform. Together, we can co-innovate the next tectonic idea to digitize industry and government around the Internet of Things – the technologies that connect people, process, data and things.

And, whether it’s the cloud, middleware, fog or applications, we’re focusing on better outcomes for transportation, manufacturing, infrastructure, smart + connected communities, education, healthcare, and retail.

What’s in it for the winners? A share of $250,000 to jumpstart your venture, access to Cisco’s global network of Innovation Centers, mentoring, technology tools, open doors to other potential partners and customers.  And immense potential to bring brilliant ideas to life.

And so what’s in it for Cisco? The opportunity to build relationships with the most promising entrepreneurial talent in the world, around the greatest opportunity yet known – digital transformation.  No single company can extract the full value of digitization by itself, so we’re looking for next-generation co-innovators.

From my perspective, there’s never been a better time for innovation, as I explained a couple of weeks ago in a blog. #NeverBetter  Today’s digital revolution, powered by the intelligent network, is accelerating innovation at breathtaking speed.Milestones

And innovation is no longer the domain of solo inventors alone in their garages. With today’s complex technology, it requires co-innovations involving collaborations of all kinds focused on the same goals.  Our experience shows that game-changing ideas can come from anywhere, and anyone.

More than 3,000 competitive entrepreneurs from more than 150 countries have vied for a total of $500,000 and state-of-the-art resources during the past two Challenges. The aftershocks of these two earthquakes just keep reverberating.  I am confident that this third Challenge will create an even bigger jolt.  We’re sure to surpass all prior seismic records for momentum throughout this year’s Challenge – registrations, entries and groundbreaking ideas.

And that’s just the objective of Cisco’s Innovation Grand Challenge:  Help innovators accelerate their disruptive solutions for a safer, more sustainable and connected world.

Last year’s winners, whose ingenious solutions still boggle my mind, can attest to the value of this Challenge. All of them met the judging criteria for customer value, uniqueness, disruption, likelihood of success and fit with Cisco or partner’s business strategy.

“We are still a startup but a much more successful one, in large part to being a winner at last year’s Innovation Grand Challenge,” said Zhengliang Wu, CIO of Green City Solutions, the runner up of 2015 Challenge that culminated at the IoT World Forum in Dubai. “In addition to the financial support, we have had a huge marketing boost, media attention and access to new partners globally who have helped us to accelerate our expansion.

Innovation Grand ChallengeWhat advice would Wu give to this year’s entrants? “Have fun and enjoy the time you are spending at the IoTWF (IoT World Forum) and Innovation Grand Challenge. Use the opportunity to gather new contacts and learn about upcoming challenges. For the selection process, try to work on it with your whole team and for the pitch as always practice, practice, practice.”

“We have been astonished by the size of Cisco’s network and the willingness to connect us to share their resources and connect us with mentors and people all over the world who we have partnered with now on a Smart City project in Paris. The impact (of winning) still lingers and is ongoing,” Wu added.

That same kind of impact has been exponential for relayr, which captured the $150,000 first prize two years ago. Relayr provides a cloud platform that enables software developers to build applications on top of Cisco’s digital network. “We could not have dreamed of the traction that followed after winning the Challenge,” Jackson Bond, relayr founder, said after gaining the funds, mentors, technology tools and relationships with an expanded universe of partners and customers.

Cisco’s relationship with relayr continues to flourish to this day. In addition to co-developing their platform, Cisco was part of a group that invested $11 million into the startup, which also deployed more than 3,000 sensors in our openBerlin Innovation Center. It’s so gratifying to know that our Challenge has contributed to the growth trajectory of trailblazers like relayr.

This is the kind of successful relationship we strive to nurture with the most compelling entrepreneurs of our time. In short, the Challenge accelerates digital transformation. It jolts, speeds and expands disruptive ideas to improve productivity, efficiency and quality of life for industries and countries.

From past experience, I urge all contestants to submit their entries as soon as possible before Aug. 31. Check our Challenge website regularly, ask questions, challenge your own ideas, and follow the progress on social media.

We’ll provide milestone updates, and you can follow the progress using the hashtag, #CIGC16 or follow my Twitter handle,


I wish all entrants great inspiration, engagement, success – and fun – ahead!






Alex Goryachev

Senior Director, Innovation Strategy & Programs

Corporate Strategic Innovation Group