When it comes to career paths, I don’t think I could have landed in a more fulfilling role. There are so many aspects of my job that keep me curious, inspired, and excited to get out of bed every day. One of those is the opportunity I get each year to not only learn about new digital solutions that are driving significant social and environmental impact around the world, but also get to know the incredible entrepreneurs behind those solutions.

Today, I am thrilled to announce the winners of the fifth annual Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge. The Challenge is an online competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world’s most challenging problems.

At Cisco, we believe that technology, when thoughtfully and strategically applied, can bring positive, lasting change to people’s lives and communities, and can benefit the planet. That is why we invest in global problem solvers who are developing technology solutions that can protect the environment and create more equitable access to basic human needs, quality education, and economic opportunity – all of which people need to thrive.

We launched the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge in 2016 to jumpstart innovative ideas that benefit society, catalyze economic growth, and create jobs. Over the past four years, we’ve had the privilege to see tremendous innovation from every corner of the globe and the honor to award a total of $1.25 million USD to 43 start-ups in 15 countries.

This year, knowing that the need to support this type of entrepreneurship has never been greater, we increased the total annual prize pool to $1 million USD. We also expanded the eligibility criteria to include participants who may not be students or recent graduates of a college or university and added new special prizes. We received 1,745 team submissions from 126 countries this year, and we narrowed them down to 20 winning teams.

Thank you to all the teams that submitted technology-based solutions this year. I am genuinely inspired by your passion and drive to address some of the biggest challenges we face and look forward to learning more.

With that, I am delighted to announce the winners of the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021!

Grand Prize

($250,000 USD)

ZzappMalaria (Israel) has developed an artificial intelligence-based system for planning, executing, and monitoring of large-scale, cost-effective malaria elimination campaigns. ZzappMalaria has been working in several countries, providing protection for more than 200K people, and is now launching an operation in São Tomé and Príncipe, islands in the Gulf of Guinea, to fully eliminate the disease. If successful, this will be an unprecedented achievement in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Regional First Runners-Up

($75,000 USD each)

Telecomunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias (Mexico) has developed an innovative approach that combines open-source technology, community participation and ownership, and regulatory advocacy, and has brought thousands of people cellular and Internet service in previously uncovered places.

Virtualahan (Philippines) is solving employment discrimination experienced by people with disabilities through an impact formula that combines digital skills training, employment and entrepreneurship support, life-coaching, and community building through their inclusive and cost-effective virtual platform.

WaterScope (United Kingdom) is developing a rapid, simple, digital, bacterial testing kit to enable anyone to conduct a water test in any location. The WaterScope kit allows for easy sample collection and preparation, and uses machine learning to quantify bacterial microcolonies and ensure water is safe to drink.

Greenhouse Gas Solutions Prize

($50,000 USD)

Remora (United States) is building a device that captures at least 80 percent of the carbon emissions from a semi-truck. Remora will reuse or permanently sequester the carbon dioxide deep underground in depleted oil wells, helping companies meet their climate commitments.

Ethical AI Prize

($50,000 USD)

.lumen (Romania) builds technological glasses that replicate the main advantages of a guide dog, and then some, in a package that can easily be replicated, maintained, and used. The solution’s AI and machine learning models will provide enhanced mobility and opportunities for the blind.

Digital Inclusivity Prize

($50,000 USD)

Jangala (United Kingdom) creates technologies that provide internet access in critical settings. Their systems are effortless to use and easy to scale, enabling access for refugees, schools, clinics, and other humanitarian and development projects worldwide.

HBCU Startup Prize

($50,000 USD)

Mini City (United States) unlocks legal forms of identification for the homeless and homeless care providers. A US study determined that over 50 percent of homeless citizens were denied specific benefits because they were unable to produce an ID.

Pandemic Response Prize


Biodesign Innovation Labs (India) developed RespirAID, a safe, reliable, affordable alternative for prolonged manual ventilation. This mechanical ventilation provides intermittent positive pressure ventilation for patients in ER emergency care, ambulances, and post-operative care–saving lives during medical emergencies.

Second Runners-Up

($50,000 USD, each)

Blue Tap CIC (United Kingdom) designed a Chlorine doser, that inserts the correct amount of chlorine into a piped water system to make it safe to drink. The simplicity of the design makes it cost-effective to produce, install, and maintain.

Envisionit Deep AI (South Africa) developed an AI solution called RADIFY that addresses challenges in medical imaging diagnosis, helping to detect COVID-related pneumonia and early stage breast cancer.

GIC Space (Cameroon) developed a series of proprietary technologies to remotely screen and diagnose breast and cervical cancers with real time pathology confirmation.

Third Runners-Up

($25,000 USD, each)

Leaf Global Fintech (United States) created a global virtual bank that refugees, migrants, and cross border traders can use to safely and affordably send and receive money.

Takachar (India) enables small-scale conversion of biomass into high-value, carbon-negative biproducts such as biofuels, fertilizers, and chemicals, bringing a 40 percent increase in income to rural farmers, and preventing air pollution and carbon footprint associated with open-air biomass burning.

Teratonix (United States) developed an RF-energy harvesting solution that can generate electricity to replace batteries for powering battery free IoT sensors, wearables, and implanted medical devices.

Fourth Runners-Up

($10,000 USD, each)

Continuum (United States) works directly with farmers and recommends new practices to sequester carbon in agricultural soil, helping farmers modify the way they tend the land to increase overall soil health and facilitating a profitable transition to regenerative agriculture.

NABU Global Inc (United States) works with local creators to rapidly produce culturally relevant children’s books, using AI to match appropriate stories to a child’s reading level and increasing literacy.

Nunam (India) unlocks the socioeconomic and environmental potential of used batteries by repurposing them to provide power for those experiencing energy poverty.

People’s Choice Award

($10,000 USD)

GramHeet logo

GramHeet (India) provides integrated services through their mobile app including credit, market linkages, and agri-inputs, to secure 118 million smallholder farmers’ livelihoods by increasing their incomes.

Cisco Employees’ Choice Award

($10,000 USD)

Clearbot logo

Clearbot (Hong Kong) is a swarm of trash collecting robots that is 15x cheaper, has 5x more reach, and removes 2x more trash daily, while classifying trash into 64 distinct categories, making it easier to assess the impact.

Please check out our

Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge blog series 

featuring each winning team!


Tae Yoo

No Longer with Cisco