Cisco: Entrepreneurs in Residence, Open Innovation and Communication


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Let me start out by making it clear that I think Cisco is doing quite well with their Entrepreneurs in Residence Program (EIR).

The initiative is relevant and timely as startups today are viewed as some of the most sought after innovation partners for big companies like Cisco. For me, this was confirmed with the strong attention for my recent blog post on 15 examples of open innovation between big companies and startups.

There is no surprise here as everyone can see the benefits and outcomes that can arise from a good and dynamic partnership between a big company with all its assets and small companies with their fresh ideas, thinking and approaches.

Cisco has just begun their efforts on getting this right. Their EIR program is no more than a year old so it is too early to tell whether this will be a strong success that can drive other kinds of open innovation efforts with the company. However, it seems as if Cisco got a good start, but there is of course always room for improvement.

I can’t judge on their outcomes at this point as I have not been in touch with Cisco on this, but we can still learn some things by checking out their communication efforts. Here I think they deserve a solid review. Let me go through a couple of mechanics that they are using and share what I think of this:

The website: It is what it is. A website built to share the idea about the EIR program and get people to sign up for the program. It does the job, but not really more or less. The thing that bothers me on the website is the next mechanic – the blog…

Their blog: I like the idea of having a blog where you can write longer and/or more targeted messages to your community and followers. This requires two things in particular to work. Good content on a frequent basis. The content on Cisco’s blog is OK, but the frequency fails. If you can only manage to share one post in almost two months time, then you have a problem.

You need to ask yourself if you need a blog because other people are going to question whether you are really committed to this if you are not active. Granted, this is “just” about the blog and communication, but since this is an important element of their website, people might start wondering if this is a trait that also carries over to the program itself.

Social media: This was a positive surprise and a good example on how corporate innovation teams can use social media to promote their innovation capabilities and their knowledge on specific areas.

On their website, Cisco states that their focus for partnering with startups is “early-stage entrepreneurs working on the next big ideas in the Internet of Things/Everything (IoT/IoE), Big Data/analytics, Smart Cities, cloud computing, enterprise security and other transformational opportunities.”

This is clearly the focus of their Twitter account, which is quite active. There is a premium to be given to those who can curate content in given topic areas and Cisco has a shot on becoming a Twitter curator on the Internet of Things topic.

The EIR program also has its own Facebook page, which focuses on insights and advice on how to succeed with a startup as well as the Internet of Things. Do businesses really spend much time checking out stuff on Facebook? Probably not, but the entrepreneurs that Cisco caters to do either as a part of their startup strategy or in their private life – as if a startup entrepreneur even separates the two :- )

Their overall messages:

Cisco has a challenge on what to communicate as their objective seem to be three fold (at least).

They must build awareness of the program and get the best startups and partners to join them, they must share ideas and perspectives on how big companies can innovate with startups and they also want to be seen as a knowledgeable leader on topics related to the Internet of Things.

Although, this is all linked together in the EIR program, the broad focus still creates some confusion, and I think Cisco could put some effort into sharpening up on their messages.

Some suggestions:

The leadership team of the Cisco EIR program could develop into thought leaders on how to make innovation happen between big and small companies. This would require writing articles for the likes of the HBR blog and giving talks at the relevant corporate innovation and startup conferences.

Cisco could invite the innovation and startup blogging community to follow their efforts and write about this. Over the past few years, several big companies have done so and the outcomes seem to have been quite good.

On the program itself, it could be relevant for Cisco to look into how GE got some strong venture capital partners on board for their Ecoimagination Challenges and how GE builds partnerships for the FirstBuild initiative.

Cisco is off to solid start and I look forward to following this initiative. I am in particular curious on whether a program such as EIR can spark more open innovation initiatives in a big company and thus help address the biggest issue with open innovation today which is how to scale it up within an organization.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


  1. Cisco, effectively, has built on foundation laid by Dell. Some years ago, in reaction to “Dell Hell” negative response to its level of service provision and the viral commentary associated with it , Dell launched an interactive online forum where employees could communicate with customers, and vice versa. The result was a set of programs which provided, and continues to provide, opportunities for open innovation and performance improvement:


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