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How Cisco ignited a company-wide Startup Culture

The Challenge: Disrupt or be disrupted

Societal demands and the mass digitization of the economy have increased the pressure upon companies to shift from incremental innovation to disruptive and strategic innovation.

In 2015, Cisco kicked-off its first and unique company-wide Innovate Everywhere Challenge with the goal to capture disruptive venture ideas from Cisco employees, help them grow and enhance employee experience, empowerment, and collaboration across all functions. As stated in a published white paper by Cisco, 48% of the 72,000 employees in 50 countries submitted over 1,100 ideas under the slogan “Team up, Disrupt, and Innovate”.

Two years later, Cisco has started a second and a third challenge and is building up on these successes. The overall goal is to establish the Innovate Everywhere Challenge as an integral part of Cisco’s innovation management to drive disruptive thinking across all business units, functions, geographies, and grade levels.

at Cisco

  • Innovation = Cisco’s DNA
  • Open up innovation beyond the traditional big enterprise model of siloed units to every employee
  • First Innovate Everywhere Challenge already exceeded expectations
  • Worldwide participation in challenge and engagement from employees with different geographical and functional backgrounds


  • Engage a global community and bring together employees with different geographical and functional backgrounds and varying strengths.
  • Capture disruptive ventures and help them grow.
  • Create a company-wide entrepreneurial mindset and culture to integrate innovation stronger into everyday working life.

The Solution: A worldwide Ideation Approach

The Innovate Everywhere Challenges take place as company-wide cross-functional innovation competitions on one collaborative innovation platform. The challenges are split into four different phases:
1. Ideation - Spark ideas and team up
Who: All Cisco employees
What: Teaming up and submitting venture ideas that address a certain market, make use of a technology and pay into a specific business model via an integrated and collaborative innovation platform

2. Investigation - Is the idea valuable?
Who: 30 semi-finalists
What: Narrowing down all ventures to 30 semi-finalists by a panel of judges for further developing and refining

3. Seed Funding - Sell your idea
Who: 6 finalists
What: Looking for internal sponsors and live pitching the ideas before a panel of internal and external industry leaders regarding the feasibility, viability, and desirability of the ventures

4. Implementation - Find product-market fit
Who: 3 winners
What: Growing the ventures and preparing the integration into the Cisco organization supported by a 25.000 seed funding

The Result: Cisco's Startup Revolution

The Innovate Everywhere Challenges enable Cisco to operate more like a fast and nimble startup, using “fail-fast” methodologies and thinking “out of the box”.

The Facts

  • Overall participation of 53% in 89 countries, nearly 800 ventures were submitted by about 1,600 employees
  • 62% of the participants formed a team
  • 117 expert judges voluntarily reviewed the ventures
  • 207 mentors help ventures keep moving
  • 20 executives are sponsoring ventures with seed funds

The Learnings

  • Open engagement, cross-functional team building, and exchange via one open innovation platform
  • Creation of an entrepreneurial workforce and mindset across all functions, geographies, and grade levels to take risks, fail fast, and move forward quickly to the next innovative idea
  • Recurring Innovate Everywhere Challenges make participants learn from failure and move on
  • Quality gate and self-assessment ensure targeted challenges by addressing markets, technologies, and business models
  • High engagement rate through gamification elements (such as People's Choice Award)


percent of all employees participated


different countries joined


employees submitted ideas


ventures were submitted

“Everyone who participated in this effort is a winner. Innovation is not a lonely person sitting in a garage coming up with stuff. It is actually a team sport. It is not a single event. Think and act like a startup. Think, ideate, come up with ventures. This is part of our job and what all of us should be doing. Long live innovation!” - Maciej Kranz, Cisco’s Vice President of the Corporate Strategic Innovation Group

About Cisco

Cisco is a global market leader in the IT and technology sector. When it comes to the development and linking of networks or the automation and integration of IT-based products and services, Cisco – with its more than 30 years of experience – is the enabler in an increasingly digital world. Founded in San Francisco in 1984, this company today has a global headcount of more than 72,000 employees working at more than 200 locations. Cisco constantly seeks to transform how people connect, communicate and collaborate.

The increasing pressure to innovate through mass digitization of economy and society demands a paradigm shift from incremental innovation to disruptive and strategic innovations.