Cisco unearths its inner startup culture via companywide innovation contest

For a giant 30-plus-year-old company, Cisco has a reputation for keeping things fresh via spin-ins, buyouts and venture investments. But late last year, the vendor launched the Innovate Everywhere Challenge just to make sure it wasn’t overlooking any great new ideas among its 74,000 employees.

“We have phenomenal innovation programs for engineers, IT people, marketing people and sales, but what we’ve never really done is mix them up across functions and geographies,” says Cisco Director of Innovation Strategy & Programs Alex Goryachev, who counts Napster, Liquid Audio, IBM and Pfizer among his previous employers. “If you think about a true startup you have to have a great engineer, a great marketing/PR person, a business person, a finance person and a product person.”

alex goryachev ciscoCisco

Cisco Director of Innovation Strategy & Programs Alex Goryachev: “Our employees wanted to team up and create mini-ventures.”

What’s more, Cisco’s best known competition – the Innovation Grand Challenge held in recent years – targeted outside entrepreneurs. That frustrated some Cisco employees.

“We started [the Innovate Everywhere Challenge] because there was a demand from our employees who wanted to team up and create mini-ventures,” Goryachev says.