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Idea Management | Customers & Community

How Cisco Ignited A Company-Wide Startup Culture

Technological change, societal demands, hyper-competition, and the digital transformation of the economy have increased the pressure upon companies to shift from incremental innovation to disruptive and strategic innovation: Today it is all about disrupting or being disrupted.

Cisco exemplifies a company that continues to disrupt its marketplace. In 2015, Cisco kicked off its first and unique company-wide Innovate Everywhere Challenge. The goal was to drive global disruptive thinking, capture game-changing innovation opportunities from Cisco employees, help them grow and enhance employee experience, empowerment, and collaboration across all functions. Along the lines of "Team up, Disrupt, and Innovate". Cisco established the Innovate Everywhere Challenge as a vehicle to shape its future growth. Supported by ITONICS collaborative innovation platform, the Innovate Everywhere Challenge is now a best practice for innovation management at Cisco.

Free Download: The Award-Winning Cisco Innovate Everywhere Challenge

Innovation at Cisco

  • Innovation = Cisco’s DNA
  • Innovation is the job of every employee. It transcends traditional business unit silos.
  • The annual Innovate Everywhere Challenge calls out to all 74,000 Cisco full-time employees to "Team up, Disrupt, and Innovate".


  • Engage a global community and promote disruptive thinking across all business units and functions, geographies, and grade levels.
  • Identify disruptive ventures and help them grow.
  • Create a company-wide entrepreneurial mindset and drive innovation further into the corporate culture.
49 %
of all employees participated
participants worldwide

participating countries

venture ideas submitted

Using a collaborative platform, we were able to implement the Innovate Everywhere Challenge as an integral part of our innovation management and engage a worldwide community to team up and innovate together. We achieved a Cisco-wide cultural change and created an interconnected network of innovators.

Alex Goryachev, Director of Innovation Strategy, Cisco

The solution: A company-wide innovation challenge on one collaborative platform

The Innovate Everywhere Challenge consists of four phases running over a period of eight months - supported by the collaborative innovation management platform from ITONICS.

1. Ideate - spark ideas and team up

Who: All Cisco employees
Cisco employees worldwide are invited to participate, team up, and submit ventures to the innovation
platform powered by ITONICS.  The “(Co-)Founders” create and submit ventures, “Angels” can invest tokens to select the best ventures and help them to succeed. The platform ensures a quality gate and self-assessment. Besides stating a problem and providing a solution, the ventures submitted are categorized by market, technology, and business models.

ITONICS Campaigns 

ITONICS Campaigns is our digital tool for running solution-oriented idea campaigns. Are you facing problems or questions you can‘t solve on your own? Bring together various internal and external experts on one platform to work on challenges within your innovation landscape. You can run for example time-bound or always-on ideation campaigns and engage colleagues, clients, partners and students to leverage game-changing ideas.

2. Validate - is the venture valuable? Should it be built?

Who: 30 semi-finalists
120 expert judges select 30 semi-finalists after a pre-selection through employee token investment. The semi-finalists are invited to participate in a three-day workshop to further develop their ventures using design thinking and lean startup methodologies.

3. Fund - sell your venture

Who: Six finalists
The third phase is all about convincing. The six finalists receive an award of $10,000 as recognition and start looking for an internal executive sponsor. The finalists live-pitch their ventures to a panel of
internal and external industry leaders including a Q&A session to identify the winners of the challenge. In a company-wide live broadcast, the judges ask the teams probing questions regarding the feasibility, viability, and desirability of their ventures.

4. Build - find product-market fit

Who: Three winners
The three winning teams receive $25,000 in seed funding and an additional $25,000 in team recognition. Other semi-finalist teams that secure a sponsor receive up to $10,000 in matching funds.
Over the course of three months, the winners have time to grow their venture and prepare for integration into existing Cisco organizations.
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 74,000 employees working at more than 380 locations. Cisco constantly seeks to transform how people connect, communicate and collaborate.

Innovate like Cisco

To learn more about the tools and capabilities that help Cisco and other innovation leaders grow, browse through the features of the ITONICS Innovation OS or book a free demo with our expert team.



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