When the San Francisco Business Times and the Silicon Valley Business Journal put together their 2018 “Upstart 50” list, they tapped a broad range of Bay Area “entrepreneurs and visionaries who fuel the region’s business innovation.” From disruptive venture capitalists to innovators in food, healthcare, restorative justice, and more, the honorees reflect the full scope of the modern business ecosystem in the region. They are all truly making a difference in their fields.

So imagine my pride and excitement to be among so many trailblazers at the awards ceremony, and to witness Cisco CHILL founder Kate O’Keeffe being recognized for her work in driving change in the Fortune 500. CHILL’s multi-party approach to corporate innovation has made it a unique co-innovation catalyst that generates growth for Cisco and some of our largest customers.

It was exciting to see the 50 winners stream across the stage to accept their awards, but the most inspirational part of the evening was the on-stage conversations with people representing the four categories of Backer, Inventor, Creator, and Master.

The first conversation was with inventor Julia Hu, founder and CEO of Lark Technologies. She has developed a smartphone-based health coaching service to encourage healthier behaviors for people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. She has the lofty ambition of using AI to augment and even replace some of the health-coaching functions of nurses, freeing them to do more hands-on care. It was interesting to hear how her own illnesses throughout her life became the driver for creating her business. With the solution already being integrated into hospitals, I was moved to hear how her dream is becoming a reality.

Another conversation that stood out for me was with innovation master Mir Imran, chairman and CEO of Rani Therapeutics. He is an amazingly humble man whose list of accomplishments could fill several lifetimes. His inventions range from the full-body scanner we’ve all gone through in airports to the ubiquitous house key lockbox, used by real estate agents all over the world, including me as I began my career in Australia. Not one to rest on his laurels, his new company is developing robotic pills that can deliver an injection straight into the intestinal wall—reducing the $100 million that is wasted each year because people don’t take their medications properly.

In a small way, Mr. Imran’s lockbox invention sowed the seeds for my own career in innovation—because it was in showing people through various properties and trying to make a match that I began to understand people’s needs and motivations, which is the foundation of any innovative solution. And seeing this inventor now, many years and inventions later, I was reminded of the questions we ask every day in innovation—how do you find inspiration? How do you keep motivated? When do you know when to move on? To live a life of innovation is to be comfortable with uncertainty, to keep asking questions, and to test answers every step of the way.

Which brings me back to our own upstart, my friend and colleague Kate O’Keeffe, who lives her life in the space between what is and what could be. Leading the diverse, dynamic CHILL team through the uncertain landscape of innovation is a challenge that she has met head-on. Seeing her recognized for her courage, resilience and vision made me proud as punch.



Alice Pollard

Chief of Staff

Cisco Hyper Innovation Living Labs (CHILL)