Enterprises seem to have an endless fascination with startups. Business journals are full of articles on how enterprises can and should be more like startups. And indeed, bogged down in the procedures, processes, and approval cycles we need for compliance and accountability, it’s easy to be nostalgic for the “wild west” days of just having an idea and going for it.

Yet people who’ve worked in corporations for most of their careers really don’t have any idea what it takes to create a startup. Until they’ve done it. Which is exactly what we’re doing right now at Cisco Hyperinnovation Living Labs (CHILL).

Most people know CHILL for our 48-hour pop-up innovation labs. That’s the sexy part of what we do—bringing together some of Cisco’s biggest customers to work on industry-wide innovation around a common challenge. It’s a thrilling, adrenaline-charged experience that culminates in teams of senior executives pitching their ideas to those with the authority to make on-the-spot investment decisions to take the concepts further.

But what happens after the lab? What happens when the lights go out, the “I’m In” paddles are put away, and the executives go back to their regular jobs?

That’s when the real work begins. We follow up on each concept that received a funding commitment—and historically, three out of four of them do. Outcomes might be internal or joint projects, or joint proof of concepts. And in the last year, two of them have become startups—built from scratch from a CHILL lab.

I was proud to introduce our first startup, MyWays and its CEO Mike Jordan, at Cisco Live last June. With a mission of “igniting humanity’s capacity to care for each other,” MyWays provides a mobile app to help cancer patients and their caregivers organize and mobilize an on-demand social care team to support them throughout the treatment journey. The concept was born in our lab focused on Transforming the Patient Experience of Cancer Care last year, with a cohort of executives from Cisco customers Walgreens, UCSF, Community Health Network (CHN), and Vocera. After multiple rounds of prototyping and end-user feedback, MyWays received its first round of investment from Cisco and CHN. Since then, both companies have been actively nurturing MyWays through its startup journey.

The app has been grounded in end-user input from day one. Now, I’m happy to say, it is almost ready for wider distribution, beginning with a small pilot, then expanding to a broader base of cancer patients and their caregivers—and perhaps also those affected by other complex diseases such as Alzheimer’s. This will not only provide important support to those facing an overwhelming situation in their lives, it will continue the strong role of end users in shaping and refining the MyWays app as it matures.

The second CHILL outcome that is moving through the startup journey is Hopper, conceived last April in a Living Lab where Citi, DB Schenker, GE and Intel joined us to explore Securing the Digitized Supply Chain. The question behind Hopper was, in an age when Amazon makes it easy to buy virtually anything online, why is it so complicated to buy technology products? Well, some of the reasons are concerns about security, authenticity, and the need for accompanying services.

Hopper grows out of that challenge. It’s a B2B marketplace for tech customers, secured by blockchain. When a customer buys a product, Hopper recommends appropriate partner products and services and delivers real-time insights to vendors and partners about where their opportunities are. So customers have the convenience and speed of an online marketplace, with coordinated service and support for a complete solution from an ecosystem of partners. And vendors have a new channel for delivering products and services to a broader set of customers.

During Hopper’s pitch at the Living Lab, Cisco and DB Schenker saw the potential to reshape the technology products ecosystem. Both companies are supporting Hopper to further develop the idea in its incubation stage. In November, just six months after the lab, Hopper CEO Jonathan Taylor launched its first demo at a startup demo day for potential investors. Jonathan has a vision to build Hopper into a multi-billion dollar business, and I can’t wait to be part of the next stage of the journey.

Enterprises can’t return to their startup roots, but there are many important ways for them to innovate with startups. Coming out of a CHILL lab, we’ve seen companies partner with startups to complete their own solution, and we’ve see them support proof-of-concepts to drive innovation forward. Sometimes the best practice is to invest in a startup to help create shared success. And occasionally, when the underlying technology doesn’t exist, we go to a deeper level of engagement and actually create startups from scratch.



Kate O'Keeffe

Senior Director

Customer and Partner Innovation