Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge For Entrepreneurs ($1 Million Cash Prize)

Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge
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With $1,000,000 USD in prize money, the fifth annual Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge aims to recognize new business ideas that leverage technology for social impact from entrepreneurs around the world.

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Cisco is committed to positively impacting 1 billion people by 2025. As part of our work, we seek to inspire and empower a generation of global problem solvers who will not only survive – but drive and thrive – in our increasingly digital economy. With the Internet of Things (IoT) and digital technologies connecting devices and data, good ideas now have the ability to make a difference more quickly than ever before – and we’re here to help. 

Our fifth annual Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge aims to recognize new business ideas that leverage technology for social impact from entrepreneurs around the world. Our goal is to advance early-stage projects that are beyond the concept or idea formation stage, but which have not yet generated over $1M USD in funding and/or revenue.

$1,000,000 USD in prize money will help accelerate the adoption of breakthrough technology, products, and services that drive economic development and/or solve social or environmental problems.

How to Participate

The Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021 is a worldwide search for early-stage technology-enabled solutions and services that can enable economic development and/or benefit society and/or the environment. Our goal is to advance early-stage projects that are beyond the concept or idea formation stage, but which have not yet generated over $1M USD in funding and/or revenue.

  • Register to Participate

You can participate as an individual, as part of a team, or as a business entity. Teams may have a maximum of 5 members. If you are registering as part of a team, your team leader will need to register first and then can invite you to register as a member of the team, using your email address. For detailed eligibility requirements, please review the rules. Once you are ready, click here to register.

  • Prepare your Submission

There will be two distinct submissions rounds.

Round one opens October 27, 2020, and closes January 29, 2021, at 5:00 pm PT. To prepare your submission you will need to complete an online questionnaire which will cover the following topics:

  • Defining the problem you are solving
  • Explaining the solution, including:
    • Its benefits and how it uses IoT or digital technologies
    • How it is unique and will be taken to market
    • Risks associated with the solution
  • 90-second pitch video explaining the solution

Once you are ready, click here to register (or log in) and prepare your submission. 

  • Submit Your Solution

Once you’ve prepared and double-checked all your materials, be sure to login and submit them. You must upload all materials and submit them before January 29, 2021, at 5 pm PT. Remember, you must click submit before the deadline in order for your entry to be considered. 

Please check your entry for completeness and ensure your video does not exceed 90 seconds. Also, do not use unlicensed images, music, or video content in your submission. 

Judges evaluate submissions and are looking for ideas that are especially innovative and clearly articulate the use of technology, feasibility, and scale of impact.

On March 30, 2021, Semi-Finalists will be invited via email to submit a more detailed proposal. The round two application window opens March 30, 2021 and closes April 23, 2021, at 5 pm PT. 

In addition to the information provided in round one, the online round two questionnaire for Semi-Finalists will include the following sections:

  • Problem and solution summary explanation
  • Detailed technical overview of solution
  • Dependencies
  • Timeline for next 12-24 months
  • Addressable Market
  • Financial model
  • Team bios

If you are selected as a Semi-Finalist, be sure that your team leader logs in to the Challenge website before April 23, 2021, 5 pm PT deadline to double-check all of the materials and click submit in order to be considered for the final round.

Be sure to check that your content meets the submission guidelines, or your entry may be disqualified. It’s also important to check for completeness, appropriate content, video length, and unlicensed images, music, or video. If your round two application is not submitted by the deadline, it will not be considered. 

  • Vote and Promote

If you are selected as a Finalist, we recommend that you share your participation in the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge 2021 with your supporters and invite them to vote for their favorite entries. Voting for the People’s Choice Award takes place from June 2 – 18, 2021.

  • Celebrate the Winners

Once the submission period closes our judges will begin evaluating the submissions, looking for solutions that are especially innovative and which clearly articulate their use of technology, feasibility and scale of impact. Winners will be announced on June 29, 2021!

Before you proceed, check out these related opportunities:

Prizes

  • $1,000,000 in Prizes

In 2021, for our fifth annual Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge, we are offering an expanded prize pool of $1 million USD, spread across 20 different awards. These prizes will recognize new business ideas that leverage technology for social impact from early-stage entrepreneurs around the world. Our goal is to advance early-stage projects that are beyond the concept or idea formation stage, but which have not yet generated over $1M USD in funding and/or revenue. For full eligibility requirements, please refer to the rules. To apply you must submit your solution by January 29, 2021, at 5 pm PT.

  • $250,000 USD Grand Prize: A single team will be designated the grand prize winner.
  • $75,000 USD Regional First Runners-Up: Three teams from Americas, EMEAR and APJC will be designated the regional first runners-up and will receive $75,000 USD each.
  • $50,000 USD Second Runners-UpThree teams will be designated the second runners-up and will receive $50,000 USD each.
  • $25,000 USD Third Runners-UpThree teams will be designated the third runners-up and will receive $25,000 USD each.
  • $10,000 USD Fourth Runners-Up: Three teams will be designated the fourth runners-up and will receive $10,000 USD each.
  • $10,000 USD People’s ChoiceThe finalist entry that receives the most votes will receive the People’s Choice Award.
  • $10,000 USD Cisco Employees’ ChoiceThe finalist entry that receives the most votes will receive the Cisco Employees’ Choice Award.

In addition to the general prizes above we are offering five special prizes, of $50,000 USD each, to support important solutions and focus areas. Additional detail regarding each of these special prizes is provided below. To be considered for one of these prizes, complete the prize-specific question(s) within the application and ensure you submit your solution by January 29, 2021, at 5 pm PT. Note that these Special 2021 Prizes are offered in addition to the general prizes listed above, and winning one of these Special 2021 Prizes does not preclude winning any of the other prizes.

  • $50,000 USD Greenhouse Gas Solutions PrizeA single team will be designated as the winner of this prize.
  • $50,000 USD Ethical AI PrizeA single team will be designated as the winner of this prize.
  • $50,000 USD Digital Inclusivity PrizeA single team will be designated as the winner of this prize.
  • $50,000 USD HBCU Startup PrizeA single team will be designated as the winner of this prize.
  • $50,000 USD Pandemic Response PrizeA single team will be designated as the winner of this prize.

Greenhouse Gas Solutions Prize

The Greenhouse Gas Solutions Prize will be awarded to a startup using technology to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) in the Earth’s atmosphere. This GHG reduction may come from:

  • reductions in GHG emissions released during a product or process life cycle,
  • direct removal of GHG emissions from the atmosphere, 
  • economic use of removed emissions or byproducts, 
  • implementation of already proposed solutions (such as from Project Drawdown®), 

or other innovations to stop the increase—or even reverse—GHG concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere. The winner of the Greenhouse Gas Solutions Prize will be awarded $50,000 USD to accelerate the development of their solution.  

  • Ethical AI Prize

The Ethical AI Prize will be awarded to a startup designing artificial intelligence in an inherently ethical manner so that the solution addresses social, environmental, or technological challenges. We believe the ethical use of AI and machine learning can radically accelerate social impact while also reducing unintended societal harm. This $50,000 USD prize is being offered by Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation Group. The winner of the Ethical AI Prize will also be offered the chance to present their solution and get feedback from the Emerging Technologies and Incubation team. This exclusive opportunity will include up to five hours of technical mentorship in an area of the winner’s choice, plus a session with our engineering team to help expand the solution’s technical scope. 

  • Digital Inclusivity Prize

The Digital Inclusivity Prize will be awarded to a startup using technology to ensure that no one is left behind, and that underserved communities are enabled to thrive in an increasingly digital word. The winning solution will be focused on closing the digital divide by addressing issues such as accessibility, affordability, and digital literacy to build a more inclusive digital world. This $50,000 USD prize is offered by Cisco’s Emerging Technologies and Incubation Group in the spirit of our new purpose to Power an Inclusive Future for All.  The winner of the Digital Inclusivity Prize will also be offered the chance to present their solution and get feedback from the Emerging Technologies and Incubation team. This exclusive opportunity will include up to five hours of technical mentorship in an area of the winner’s choice, plus a session with our engineering team to help expand the solution’s technical scope. 

  • HBCU Startup Prize

Cisco’s Social Justice Beliefs and Actions framework commits to the strategic recovery, sustainability and legacy of America’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), post-COVID and beyond. We believe in the importance of investing in African American/Black-owned startups. The HBCU Startup Prize will be awarded to a team with at least one founder who is a student or graduate of an HBCU, with an innovative technology solution that addresses a social or environmental problem. The winner of the HBCU Startup Prize will be awarded $50,000 USD to accelerate their solution.  

  • Pandemic Response Prize

The Pandemic Response Prize will be awarded to a startup responding to COVID-19 or future pandemic crises. The winning team will have an innovative technology solution that accelerates the response to, or recovery from, COVID-19 and its physical, social or economic impact. The winner of the Pandemic Response Prize will be awarded $50,000 USD to accelerate the development of their solution. 

Before you apply, check these opportunities handpicked for you:

How to Apply

You need to register on our online platform, complete an online questionnaire, and upload required documentation including a 90-second pitch video. For more details on the submission process, please click the links below.

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Deadline for submission is January 29, 2021.

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