College Student Wins Cisco's $250K I-Prize
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Has Cisco found its next billion-dollar opportunity? If the winning team of the networking giant's first annual I-Prize contest has a truly worthwhile idea, the answer could well be yes.
The $250,000 prize -- given by the networking giant in recognition of the best idea for a new business opportunity -- went to a team led by Ana Gossen, a computer science graduate student at Germany's Karlsruhe University. She'll share the prize with her two teammates: her husband, Niels Gossen, a computer science student at the University of Applied Sciences in Germany; and her brother, Sergey Bessonnitsyn, a systems engineer from Russia.
The trio now has the chance to work for Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) to develop and possibly see their idea brought to market as part of their award.
Cisco launched the I-Prize contest over a year ago and attracted over 2,500 applicants. Because of its winner-take-all format, there were no runner-ups announced and few details disclosed about the entries.
"There were some great entries, but because some of the people want to pursue their ideas on their own, we don't think it's appropriate to list the other ideas that were submitted," David Hsieh, Cisco's senior director of product marketing for emerging technologies, told InternetNews.com.
For now, Cisco is not releasing too many specifics about Ana Gossen's winning entry. A Cisco statement said the idea involved "an approach to using the network as the platform for visibility, manageability and, ultimately, optimized control of energy-consuming systems."
Hsieh said Cisco is being protective of what is currently just a set of ideas, not a business or anything coded. "Broadly speaking, the idea is in the area of smart grid and using the power of the network to prove efficiency across the grid. They also proposed some very interesting business model ideas that made it compelling."
In a statement, Gossen said her team is "excited to continue working with Cisco to evolve our idea into a real business opportunity for the company and help develop a new wave of technology leadership in improving energy efficiencies."
Getting to the finals
There were several levels in the I-Prize competition. Once a panel of judges winnowed the list of finalists down to 32, Cisco assigned coaches to help them each refine their ideas and presentations. They were also encouraged to use the company's conferencing tools such as WebEx and the TelePresence video conferencing system, where available.
When the contest was launched last year, Hsieh said some cynics questioned why anyone would give a potential billion-dollar idea to the company.
"For a lot of entrepreneurs, it's not just about making money but making a difference," he said. "We had a number of e-mails where people said they were thrilled to have Cisco even consider their idea because they had no other outlet to pitch it to. Those of us who live in Silicon Valley get a slightly jaded view. But if you live in say Hungary or Romania, you can be incredibly smart, but you can't get a company off the ground."
Hsieh did share that almost all of the finalist entries had a networking angle, as befits a potential Cisco product, including one designed for consumers. One entry proposed a way to enable a variety of connectivity services in rural areas like India. There was another related to retail point-of-sale, "and a couple of interesting security ideas," Hsieh added.