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Cisco Seeks Next Billion-Dollar Idea

Cisco has launched a contest that promises to make for some very happy winners.

The Cisco I-Prize is a global competition the company said is designed to help it find the next billion-dollar opportunity. The main requirement is that teams must use Cisco's collaboration technologies to develop their projects. The winning team will get an employment contract with a $250,000 signing bonus and up to $10 million in funding over three years to develop the business.

One aspect of the I-Prize venture that's not a surprise is Cisco's willingness to invest in new ideas; it's one of the most acquisitive tech companies around.

Still, at first glance it might seem odd that Cisco sees the need to make such a large, structured outreach effort for new ideas. After all, the tech industry is littered with venture capital events, startups and entrepreneurs constantly pitching new ideas. But Silicon Valley veteran analyst Tim Bajarin said it makes sense.

"I actually think it's a very smart move," Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com. "The key reason you do this as a contest is that it lets you (Cisco) create the rules that strategically meet the needs of the company and grow its business."

Indeed, the company said one of the premises of the I-Prize contest is that ideas "have the potential to bring in at least $1 billion revenue to Cisco over a five- to seven-year period, and submissions must use the IP network as a platform."

And though Silicon Valley and other tech hot spots across the U.S. are swimming with new ideas, Bajarin said he wouldn't be surprised if the winner comes from outside this country. "The probability of it coming from the U.S. might be less than 35 percent given the global reach of engineering innovation."

Marthin DeBeer, senior vice president of Cisco's emerging technologies group, said in a statement that inventors and entrepreneurs in various parts of the world don't have access to funding but have excellent ideas. "We want to give those innovators an outlet and a means to develop their dream."

Submissions are due between now and Jan. 15. Once chosen, up to a hundred semifinalists will present throughout February a more detailed report on the market opportunity and technology that define their proposed businesses. And between March 15 and April 30, the finalists will present their business plans to a judging panel of "industry luminaries" and Cisco senior executives using Cisco's TelePresence teleconferencing system.

Cisco isn't the only tech outfit extending beyond its boundaries. Microsoft last month announced the Startup Accelerator Program, which gives designated startups access to technical and marketing resources inside Microsoft.