Entrepreneurs in Residence: Cisco re-invents support for start-ups

Cisco EIRWe’ve written before about changes to the landscape of start-ups. We mentioned the existence of ‘accelerators’, which act as business schools for start-ups, or possibly as ‘pressure cookers’, helping ideas to come to the boil over a shorter and more intense period. Places on such accelerators are highly sought-after among start-ups and entrepreneurs, perhaps not least for the opportunity to pitch to selected investors, and also to begin to make a network of contacts that may provide long-term sustenance for the entrepreneurs and their company.

 Entrepreneurs in Residence is one such programme. Run by Cisco Systems, it’s a six-month start-up incubation programme.

What’s it all about?

Cisco EIR launched last summer, with a call to entrepreneurs working on disruptive technologies and products in the Internet of Things (IoT) or Internet of Everything (IoE), cloud computing, Big Data, analytics and other transformational technologies. Tom Yoritaka, in the EIR blog, says that the company really had no idea what to expect, but received over 150 strong applications. The first cohort of six start-ups joined the programme in April this year, and the programme is inviting applications for the autumn 2014 cohort. An expansion to Europe and the Middle East has just been announced.

Perhaps the advantages for the start-ups are obvious: access to expertise and business experience, including the chance to work with Cisco’s own product development and engineering teams,  and funding from Cisco. It also provides co-working space, a vital resource for cash-strapped start-ups, but without a formal and rigid relationship. The new working relationship between Cisco and entrepreneurs is flexible and informal, and offers the potential for future strategic partnerships if that works for both partners.

But what’s in it for Cisco? It’s traditionally been slow to engage with early start-ups, and this is a way into that community. It’s hoped that it may improve Cisco’s innovation approach, with some of the entrepreneurial culture ‘rubbing off’ on the product and engineering teams, and by providing access to entrepreneurial ideas and products. Tom Yoritaka sees the EIR as complementary to Cisco’s existing work. It is an innovation catalyst that is part of the broader landscape, and expands the company’s work into an earlier stage of innovation. It fits neatly with the corporate acquisition strategy, but extends it to companies that are self-funded or supported by ‘angels’.

Cisco EIR does not in any way believe that it has all the answers for start-ups. It is very conscious of Cisco’s lack of experience in early start-ups, so much so that it has advertised for good quality business mentors for its start-ups. It would like start-up veterans, especially those who have founded their own companies in the past, to get involved and act as mentors alongside Cisco’s product and engineering teams.

The first cohort

The first cohort on the programme is an interesting selection. Crowdx provides telephone companies with analytics and network optimisation tools. It’s using crowdsourcing techniques to improve mobile consumer experience. From crowdsourced data, users can analyse their usage locations and habits, and find the best network for them. DGLogik, Inc. is about the IoT. It makes it easier to create and implement smart and connected devices. Nuviso uses software-defined networking (SDN) to improve networks, helping companies to improve operational efficiency and reduce the costs of running complex hybrid networks.

Pawaa is about encryption, making it secure and persistent across multiple devices. PetaSecure is also focused on security, supporting huge increases in security data capture and storage, and aiming to develop the next generation enterprise security intelligence system. Combined with ground-breaking analytics, the data capture and storage enables detection and management of security threats.

SecureWaters is also about security, but of surface water, rather than data or systems. The AquaSentinel water toxicity monitor provides real-time monitoring of surface water. By continuously collecting and transmitting data about water quality, the device enables sensible and intelligent response to pollutants. This can save time and money, but perhaps most importantly, lives.

You scratch my back…

As we’ve said before, accelerators are popular, and Cisco’s EIR is no exception. But perhaps the real reason for that is that they really work. They provide something for the organisation that runs them, in this case access to entrepreneurial thinking and culture. And they also provide something for the entrepreneurs: access to funding, expertise in product development and engineering, and also in starting up new companies if suitable new mentors join. Perhaps most importantly, they provide belief in the start-up, and that confidence could go on to be worth millions to both.

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