Looking for the next great technology startup with disruptive potential? The recent Kairos Global Summit provided an embarrassment of riches. Meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in beautiful Laguna Niguel, Calif., the private event brought together 350 of the world’s brightest college entrepreneurs from 43 countries.
Most of the attendees are founders of ingenious startups solving real-world problems with the potential to have a huge impact. In some cases, they are early-stage entrepreneurs working on the next big ideas in the Internet of Things (IoT) and the Internet of Everything (IoE)—a $19 trillion global opportunity over the next decade. Their innovations may be future disruptors of the IoT/IoE landscape, big data/analytics, security, mobile, cloud and other areas.
Which is why Cisco teamed up with the Kairos Society for their recent summit. The company wants to expand its ecosystem by embracing entrepreneurs who are tapping into these key strategic areas. More specifically, Cisco wants to cultivate select startups through its one-year-old program, Cisco Entrepreneurs in Residence (Cisco EIR).
“Cisco EIR is a program that allows us to attract and find innovators in the IoT/IoE space and many other related spaces quickly and really tap into their innovation, bring them in, connect them with our technology arms, connect them with our channels, our customers, and as importantly, fuse them with our capabilities to really unlock this market,” says Pankaj Srivastava, who is vice president of engineering in the Application Platforms Group for Internet of Everything at Cisco. “It’s trillions of dollars of value, and the EIR is really helping us bring in the next generation of innovators.”
Cisco EIR—a Game Changer
Actively engaging with the entrepreneurs at the summit with Srivastava was Cisco’s Tom Yoritaka, managing director of the EIR program. Yoritaka says the EIR program enables Cisco to get a peek into early-stage startups, many of which are unknown to Cisco. He says it also gives Cisco the ability to shape ideas that may become disruptive to the company’s future in IoT and IoE.
Cisco EIR accepted its first cohort of six entrepreneurs in March 2014 and is now preparing to select the next group. Yoritaka says the program benefits startups in multiple ways; it helps them scale more quickly; it provides basic support in terms of infrastructure, such as co-working space and basic software tools; and, most importantly, it offers access to Cisco, its engineering groups, product managers, partners and customers worldwide – as well as mentorship from executives.
“Oftentimes, small startups have an impossible time accessing resources and breaking into larger organizations,” says Yoritaka, who is also senior director and general manager in Cisco’s Services Platforms Group. “Cisco EIR changes the game and helps streamline that relationship-building.”
Kishore Kumar, an alumnus of the six-month EIR program, agrees. As CEO of Nuviso, which enables next-generation software-defined networking (SDN) technologies, he says Cisco EIR stands out from other in-residence programs on several fronts.
“The uniqueness that Cisco EIR brings is, number one, the industry relevance because they are the biggest in the industry,” Kumar says. “The second aspect is the customer interactions; they have a lot of customers. The third differentiator is that Cisco can partner with you and take your products to market much faster because their sales and marketing is phenomenal.”
Another EIR alumnus, DGLogik CEO Eugene Mazo, says the program has provided a tremendous boost to his company, which drives device connectivity and provides a platform for building IoT/IoE applications.
“The Cisco EIR program has helped us open a lot of doors and a lot of opportunities within Cisco as well as outside Cisco in the company’s partner eco-system,” Mazo says. “We’re presented with an opportunity to showcase our company a lot more at many events, at various industry functions—opportunities that we would not frankly be able to have by ourselves.”
A Two-Way Street
The startup entrepreneurs are not the only ones who gain from the residency within Cisco. Yoritaka notes that Cisco also benefits from the sheer passion, creativity and drive to change the world that young entrepreneurs embody.
These qualities were palpable at the Kairos Global Summit. Just about every entrepreneur in attendance had an ingenious startup and a well-practiced elevator pitch. One team had developed a smartphone Breathalyzer to help users drink responsibly. Another entrepreneur had built a platform for health organizations in developing countries to keep track of medical supplies using basic mobile phones. Yet another was in the business of sustainably recycling critical rare earth elements from electronic devices and selling them into the domestic market.
For Yoritaka, interacting with these entrepreneurs is vital not only because of the potential technology benefits they can bring to Cisco, but also in terms of culture.
“In our interactions with these companies, we learn how early-stage startups have to operate, how fast they have to move, how agile and flexible they have to be,” Yoritaka says. “These are qualities that Cisco sometimes loses sight of. I personally hope that these interactions with startups will help us evolve culturally as a company”
Alex Fiance, CEO of the Kairos Society, says the summit provides a unique opportunity for entrepreneurs and corporate partners alike.
“It’s very rare to see so many incredible entrepreneurs come together from different parts of the world,” Fiance says. “It’s also rare to be able to get so many decision-makers together from a big company like Cisco. It means the world to the entrepreneurs to actually have a real chance to talk to the people behind the big company.”
In addition to Cisco, partners at this year’s summit included Johnson & Johnson, GE and Sprint. Young entrepreneur Daniel Yu, CEO of a startup called Project SAM, summed up the attitude of many of his peers at the event.
“I’m really happy to have people like Cisco and Johnson & Johnson around, who do really push innovation technology through the developing world to allow us to hopefully leverage their partnerships and existing connections to grow our business as well,” Yu says.
While the other corporate partners focused largely on opportunities in mobile, healthcare and education, Cisco’s emphasis at the summit was primarily the massive opportunity represented by IoT/IoE.
“The reality is that 99 percent of our assets, our things, are not connected to the Internet, and when you bring those together, the network effect is going to be phenomenal,” Srivastava said in his keynote. “It’s going to be 10 to 20 to 30 times bigger than the first Internet wave and the second Internet wave. That’s what we call the Internet of Everything. This world is about to explode onto the Internet.”
And, Yoritaka says, Cisco EIR will be there to help make it happen.
“I think there’s a lot of synergy between what these startups can bring to the table and what companies like Cisco can do,” he says.