Monday, March 31, 2008

Vital Signs: Cisco's 1100 New Business Ideas (I-Prize)

Here's another example of Open Innovation, this time courtesy of Cisco. Cisco has been running their I-Prize competition to generate the next new crop of business ideas (Q&A here):

Q: What is the Cisco I-Prize?
A: Cisco knows that the global community is an amazing resource of creativity and innovation. Therefore, Cisco is looking beyond its own resources and turning to the Human Network to identify its next major business opportunity. Before you submit your idea, consider what problems it addresses, how it's new and different, and who comprises your target market.

Cisco will select up to 100 semifinalist teams that will work with Cisco experts using state-of-the-art collaboration tools to build a business plan and presentation. Next, up to 10 finalist teams will present to a judging panel for the ultimate prize: the opportunity to start a new business unit with access to the resources that Cisco has to offer.

Raising the stakes on efforts of Dell and Starbucks I described previously, Cisco has put a value on the potential new businesses by providing a financial reward for the best business ideas:

What's At Stake

The winning team may have the opportunity to be hired by Cisco to found a new business unit and share a $250,000 signing bonus. Cisco may invest approximately $10 million over three years to staff, develop, and go to market with a new business based on your idea.

During the project, Cisco reps wrote:
Now two and a half months later we know that more than 1600 people have entered from almost 90 countries. There are many, many high-quality ideas worth considering as semifinalists. And the level of community discussion and interaction has been unbelievably high. Global collaboration is really working. Feedback from everyone has been extremely positive.

More recently, the voting process was discussed:
In I-Prize, there is a voting mechanism that lets participants raise (or lower) the overall score for an idea. This is not how we choose the best ideas. If so, why did we bother to put in the voting system? Let me explain: we have a set of internal questions that we asked for every idea: is it a big market, can Cisco get a good share, how close to our existing businesses, can we ensure enduring differentiation, etc. The answers to these questions were used to determine the overall score for an idea.

We then went back an looked at the user-voting and we also looked at which ideas had attracted the most feedback and discussion. We used this to check whether there were ideas that had attracted a higher community vote (but that maybe had been scored lower by our own internal evaluation). We also considered ideas that we had scored lower but which had attracted a lot of responses and discussions. We then chose some ideas in these categories to add to our list of semi-finalists.

The reason for doing this is that we wanted to combine expert opinion with the wisdom of crowds (and we wanted to see if there was any strong disagreement between the experts and the community!). If your idea got a low community vote--rest assured--we evaluated every idea on its merits without considering the vote. If you attracted strong interest from the community, we listened to that as well.

It's very interesting to see some of the stats posted by Cisco:

Team members from the Semi-finalists are a very diverse group:
- Competitors from 13 Countries on 5 Continents
- 20% of the teams are multi-country
- Teams ranging in size from 1 to 9 people
- Competitors ages were evenly distributed between people in their 20s, 30s and 40s or higher

For those of you curious about the ideas that were selected:

- Ideas fell into a broad range of categories: Comms Infrastructure, Connected Home, E-Learning, Mobility, Security, Services, Emerging Countries, Unified Communications, Video, Virtualization and Web 2.0
- When an idea was submitted had little bearing. Ideas were evenly distributed across the competition time frame
- Some ideas had lots of information, some had relatively little (at least publicly viewable) but some contributors who appeared to publish little did supply us with private information to help guide our selection
- Comments, votes and private information made the most difference when we were evaluating very similar ideas
- There were some great business ideas, but not so great for Cisco. We encourage those that believe passionately in their idea to continue working on them
- There were a few very good ideas that we have already been working on

As of writing this, the contest was still up and running and in the semi-finals phase:
The results are in: After reading, discussing and scoring over 1100 new business ideas, we have selected 32 teams as Cisco I-Prize semi-finalists.

Congratulations to the teams that have been selected. The Cisco team is very excited to be working with you on your semi-final presentations.

Interesting to see that they chose 32 teams out of a maximum target of 100. One can only assume that the only 32 ideas qualified.

Hope to read about an update soon!

P.S. Thanks to Paul Tran of BrightIdea for this heads up!