Today, I am proud to announce the kickoff of the fifth annual Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge, and along with it, our largest prize pool and expanded eligibility criteria. Part of Cisco’s commitment to positively impact one billion people by 2025, the Challenge is an online competition that awards cash prizes to early-stage tech entrepreneurs solving the world’s toughest problems.
We launched the Challenge in 2016 to jumpstart innovative ideas that benefit society, catalyze economic growth, and create jobs. Since then, we’ve had the privilege to see tremendous innovation from every corner of the globe and the honor to award $1.25 million USD to 43 start-ups in 15 countries.
Past winning solutions address a wide range of social and environmental challenges – from cervical cancer and bee extinction to crop depletion and lack of clean drinking water.
We’ve learned a lot over the past four years and have continued to find new ways to enhance the program and inspire a generation who want to use technology for social good. This year, we’ve challenged ourselves to do even more.
Knowing that the need to support this type of entrepreneurship has never been greater, we have increased the total prize pool to $1 million USD, with the grand prize winner receiving $250,000 USD.
We have also expanded the eligibility criteria to include participants who may not be students or graduates of a college or university, and added new special prizes, described below.
Special 2021 Prize Details
- Greenhouse Gas Solutions Prize. The Greenhouse Gas Solutions Prize will be awarded to a startup using technology to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) in the Earth’s atmosphere. The winner will be awarded $50,000 USD to accelerate the development of their solution. The GHG reduction may come from:
- reductions in GHG emissions released during a product or process life cycle
- direct removal of GHG emissions from the atmosphere,
- economic use of removed emissions or byproducts,
- implementation of already proposed solutions (such as from Project Drawdown®),
- other innovations to stop the increase—or even reverse—GHG concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere.
- Ethical AI Prize. The Ethical AI Prize will be awarded to a startup designing artificial intelligence in an inherently ethical manner so that the solution addresses social, environmental, or technological challenges. This $50,000 USD prize is being offered by Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation Group and supports our belief that the ethical use of AI and machine learning can radically accelerate social impact while also reducing unintended societal harm. The winner of the Ethical AI Prize will also be offered the chance to present their solution and get feedback from the Emerging Technologies and Incubation team. This exclusive opportunity will include up to five hours of technical mentorship in an area of the winner’s choice, plus a session with our engineering team to help expand the solution’s technical scope.
- Digital Inclusivity Prize. The Digital Inclusivity Prize will be awarded to a startup using technology to ensure that no one is left behind, and that underserved communities are enabled to thrive in an increasingly digital word. This $50,000 USD prize is offered by Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation Group in the spirit of our new purpose to Power an Inclusive Future for All. The winning solution will be focused on closing the digital divide by addressing issues such as accessibility, affordability, and digital literacy to build a more inclusive digital world. The winner of the Digital Inclusivity Prize will also be offered the chance to present their solution and get feedback from the Emerging Technologies and Incubation team. This exclusive opportunity will include up to five hours of technical mentorship in an area of the winner’s choice, plus a session with our engineering team to help expand the solution’s technical scope.
- Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Startup Prize. The HBCU Startup Prize will be awarded to a team with at least one founder who is a student or graduate of an HBCU, with an innovative technology solution that addresses a social or environmental problem. This $50,000 USD prize is offered by Cisco’s Employee Resource Organizations (which provide a platform for diverse groups of employees to connect, build powerful new relationships, explore their unique passions and talents, innovate, and excel) and supports our commitment to the strategic recovery, sustainability, and legacy of America’s historically Black colleges and universities.
- Pandemic Response Prize. The Pandemic Response Prize will be awarded to a startup responding to COVID-19 or future pandemic crises. The winning team will have an innovative technology solution that accelerates the response to, or recovery from, COVID-19 and its physical, social, or economic impact. The winner of the Pandemic Response Prize will be awarded $50,000 USD to accelerate development of their solution.
The Special 2021 Prizes listed above are offered in addition to the General Prizes listed below. Winning a Special 2021 Prize does not preclude winning any of the General Prizes.
The deadline for individuals, teams, or businesses to apply is January 29, 2021. Please read the eligibility criteria and help us spread the word about the Challenge by sharing this opportunity with friends and colleagues, and by following us on Twitter at @CiscoChallenge. You never know whose life you could change.
The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge continues to grow each year – reaching more countries and positively impacting more lives. I am very excited to see the innovative solutions submitted by this year’s applicants and look forward to announcing the next group of winners in June 2021.