Open Innovation: Smart Grid

Published Oct-30-09

An electrical grid known as “smart grid” that will lower energy consumption and revolutionize the way that power is managed, allowing consumers and businesses to use energy in a more efficient way.

Anna Gossen and Niels Gossen from Germany, Sergey Bessonnitsyn from Russia, Germany

The Story:

Open Innovation: Smart Grid Cisco, the computer networking giant created a global contest to come up with new ideas and markets that would fuel its future.

Business Opportunities

Cisco’s I-Prize developed out of the company’s I-Zone which was an internal web space forum for employees to submit new ideas. It had generated several multimillion dollar business prospects and so impressed company bosses that they decided to invite entrepreneurs and innovators from all over the world to join a collaborative online forum where they could brainstorm ideas, and form teams to help identify a major new business opportunity for Cisco. “Our goal was to look to the global community as a new untapped resource of creativity and innovation. Therefore we looked beyond our own resources and turned to the human network to identify our next major business opportunity,” said Cisco’s SVP of the Emerging Technologies Group Marthin De Beer on the company’s corporate website.

The competition was launched in October 2007 as part of the opening celebrations of Cisco’s Globalization Center in Bangalore, India. Within the first three months of the launch date more than 2,500 people from 104 countries were taking part in feverish bouts of brainstorming. The results were a dizzying array of new ideas covering everything from telemedicine and energy management to new communication technologies and automotive networking. The large carrot being dangled in front of them was a $250,000 cash prize to be shared equally among team members; small change for Cisco as the company hoped the contest would generate a billion dollar business idea.

We Have a Winner

Ideas were posted, shared and worked on using Cisco’s web-based collaborative technologies. The winner was a three-person team from Germany and Russia that consisted of two computer science students from Munich, Anna Gossen and her husband Niels Gossen, and her brother Sergey Bessonnitsyn a Russian systems engineer. They created a business plan for an IP framework that is designed to lower power energy consumption. The system will use hardware and software that can be installed in a home or business premises to control energy consumption.

How it works is that an electrical device such as a stereo or computer will ‘ask’ the electrical grid for power before it starts operating rather than passively consuming it all the time. The innovation is not only kinder to the planet by reducing consumption but it should also help utility companies make better forecasts about usage.

Anna heard about the contest by chance at Karlsruhe University in Karlsruhe, Germany and relished the idea of taking part. “It was exciting, just like playing a computer game, where you always try to get to the next level, but certainly more useful,” she said. And she submitted 14 ideas overall, but it was the smart grid that impressed the judges.

Revolutionary Product?

Cisco is not revealing too many details at this stage about the winning scheme, but the company believes that the team’s innovation could potentially revolutionize how power is managed, and is working with them to determine how to evolve the technology into a feasible and workable Cisco business prospect. They hope to bring a product to market during 2010 and for it generate $1 billion in revenues over a five to seven year period.

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