The Cisco Innovation Grand Challenge is an exciting way for us to uncover new opportunities and game-changing trends. It’s also a great way for entrepreneurs and startups to further their ideas. And the good news is we’re still accepting submissions to the challenge until August 31.

Like last year’s competition, winners of the 2016 Grand Innovation Challenge, take a share of $250,000 to jumpstart their ventures. They also get access to the Cisco Innovation Centers and receive mentoring and coaching from Cisco. Not sure how winning the Innovation Grand Challenge could change your world? Don’t take our word for it. Listen to what former winners have to say.

In the second of my three-part “Innovation Grand Challenge: Where Are They Now” series, I caught up with Tom Caldwell, co-founder and EVP of Products at CyberFlow Analytics.

Q: Tom, I know your team is incredibly busy. Thank you for speaking with us. Each member of your team has quite an impressive background. How did those backgrounds shape the founding of CyberFlow Analytics?

A: Dr. Hossein Eslambolchi and I founded CyberFlow Analytics to develop a new type of behavioral Anomalytics that would detect cyber threat activity in network cores. Anomalytics is the term we use to describe real-time network anomaly detection using predictive analytics, threat intelligence, and advanced visualization.

As for our backgrounds, Hossein was previously president of AT&T Labs and CTO of AT&T. I was a director of engineering at Cisco for over 11 years. And Steve Nye, who recently joined the team, was formerly at InfoBlox and also a VP/GM at Cisco.

Each one of us is passionate about seeing the network as the first line of defense for cyber security and we believe it can propagate threats faster than humans can stop them.

Q: Obviously there are some Cisco connections on your team. Was your work with Cisco how you learned of the Innovation Grand Challenge?

A: Actually, no. We saw the information through a posting on LinkedIn.

I entered the competition thinking it was going to be a weekend hobby or side project that I would work on for fun—pretty much a learning experience. But as we progressed to the semi-finals and beyond, it became a much more serious effort that involved our entire team.

Q: Clearly it was worth the effort to enter the Innovation Grand Challenge. Looking back at your venture, there’s not a single company that doesn’t understand the importance of cyber security. What prompted you to concentrate on that when creating your company?

A: Enterprise IT and Industrial IoT are rapidly converging. And we found there’s a need for behavioral analytics in the security framework that doesn’t involve adding significant complexity or management overhead. You don’t want to add an army of security staff just to deal with the output that a new analytics tool brings.

At CyberFlow, we deliver cloud-scalable and real-time streaming Anomalytics. We improve detection and response capabilities while keeping the analytics complexity hidden. And with a “plug-and-play,” zero-configuration approach, the management overhead is nominal. Through a smart integration with SIEM and other tools, we’ve created a very efficient analytics platform that supports both IoT and IT.

Q: A simple approach to a major problem. We’re surprised it took winning the Innovation Grand Challenge to get CyberFlow Analytics the backing it needed. Why do you think that is?

A: Well, behavioral analytics are a new paradigm in security tools. Security teams don’t have data scientists and are not familiar with supervised versus unsupervised machine learning and how it works in threat detection. Venture capitalists also lack an understanding of the pain that Enterprise IT and Industrial IoT have in converging their networks. Today, we see the industry maturing and now every Enterprise and IoT deployment considers security behavioral analytics as a must-have tool in their security framework.

Q: How has winning the Innovation Grand Challenge affected CyberFlow Analytics’ opportunities?

A: We continue to see growth in our market and interest from large enterprise and government accounts that are grappling with how to protect these new converged IoT and IT infrastructure. Winning the Cisco Innovation Grand Challenge gave us much more visibility to new customers and new partnerships on a global basis. It accelerated our credibility in the market for both Industrial IoT and Enterprise IT.

Q: It’s said, “In our digital era, those who disrupt win.” What’s your perspective on that statement?

A: I totally agree. You need to be disruptive or transformational to help organizations deal with the massive data and large number of IoT devices being added to the network.

From a CIO’s perspective, you need to help them add new capabilities, while simultaneously lowering cost and reducing complexity. A new approach is needed in the industry that embraces cloud, big data, analytics and new innovative software stacks.

Q: This was a great conversation, and it’s always nice to catch up with a previous winner. Now that the Innovation Grand Challenge is open for 2016, do you have any advice for this year’s competitors?

A: Having come from Cisco myself, I know it can be an overwhelming opportunity to present to the armies of talented people across various domains. But, I encourage all startups to enter the competition and go through the experience. Focus on the customer’s problem and highlight the use cases for how you deliver true value in a disruptive manner. 

I also asked a mentor in marketing to come in and grill us on our final presentation. We ended up spending three hours going through every slide and each concept behind the slide. It was well worth the investment and mentoring.

Do you have a disruptive idea that will transform an industry or impact societal change? The Cisco Innovation Grand Challenge is open for submissions through August 31. Enter it now and visit the FAQ page to learn more.

To see what other winners of the Innovation Grand Challenge have to say about their experience, check out part one of my series.


Alex Goryachev

Senior Director, Innovation Strategy & Programs

Corporate Strategic Innovation Group