Fostering the next-generation of innovators and problem-solvers
Vice President, Architectures, Asia Pacific, Japan, and China
Technology, Innovation, People and Culture, Digitization, Education
Cisco thingQbator was conceived as a Cisco India CSR initiative to students build digital skills through learning by doing. The key objectives being democratize innovation by building spaces and communities in colleges to foster innovation. Most of all, we wanted to challenge young minds to find local solutions to local problems and instill an entrepreneurial spirit amongst students to help steer more of them to think like job creators as opposed to job seekers. The program also facilitates how the most promising ideas/startups can be linked to markets/launchpads to scale their concepts and ideas to the next level.
The greatest solutions to the biggest problems often begin with a simple idea. The idea needs to be cultivated and nurtured in the right environment – to grow and become a reality. This is exactly what Cisco thingQbator has been doing in the past year in India – enabling curious, bright young minds to fully harness the power of technology to make a difference in society. And what a year it has been!
I recently attended the felicitation ceremony of the Cisco thingQbator in Bengaluru, and I was truly amazed to see the great progress we’ve made just in its first year!
Over the last 12 months, over 650 students participated from five technical institutions –
The students from each institution were able to get a hands-on experience with exciting technologies such as LoRa gateways, cloud, 3D printers, toolkits like Jetson Nano that help enable technologies like AI, Machine Learning, AR, VR, and IoT.
We really wanted our students to feel like this is a “geek playground”, where they can do rapid prototyping and become makers or creators of innovative technologies that help solve local problems. Most of all, we strongly emphasize that it is ok to fail, and that they need to keep learning and pushing in order to succeed. By having a network of mentors and coaches we learned we can rapidly scale the ideas and students.
Over the course of the year, we saw that the program has become more popular with the students and professors. We are beginning to see different colleges use this program in close conjunction with their course in entrepreneurship to make this a practical application course spread over 3 to 4 months in a semester. But the most exciting thing is that in the next academic year, this course will be graded as an elective, effectively pushing students to excel in practical application. The dream is for many more educational institutions
This is an important development because this makes students understand that in the real world, value creation lies in defining the top business problem, creating a solution, and monetizing the solution. This critical change in mindset among students - from seeking jobs to creating jobs was the biggest takeaway of this program. I’ve been closely engaged in evaluating the cohort readouts in different colleges, and I have seen the personal transformation of students from reluctant innovators to trailblazing presenters of their concepts in a period of 6 months. It gives me comfort that the future is bright and that these students truly the builders and the problem-solvers of tomorrow.
It was also inspiring to hear from 3 startup founders who started their journeys as students: Nivedha from Trashcon is one of the winners of Cisco’s Global problem solvers challenge, Rohit and Vijay, founders of Fracktal works, which is now India’s largest indigenous manufacturer of 3D printers, and Boney Dave, the founder of Trestle Labs, which makes living aids for visually disabled people. It was heartening to hear the struggles, the trials, and the triumphs of these three great entrepreneurs, who are now serving as role models Cisco thingQbator students.
Kshitij’s a class 10 student in Kendriya Vidyalaya, Varanasi landed up in the makerspace in BHU and leveraged the program to build a petrol adulteration meter using a raspberry Pi device with laser technology. His technology is being evaluated by oil companies for use in petrol pumps as it costs less than Rs2500. This example bears testimony to the endless possibilities if we keep connecting bright minds with real world problems and foster this spirit of innovation.
There were many other innovations that came out of the program, and some of the notable ones include:
Bend – a VR platform to gamify physiotherapy exercises
DOST – an application for students that help them cope with the stresses of competitive exams
TrashCash – a waste management solution that incentivizes usage of bins
Smart Gloves – an innovative solution for navigation using goggles while driving two wheelers without having to look at a smartphone
Doctor around you - transitioning into Nasscom10k in Pune and start the trial in Pune city with 150 doctors
SAK being given a grant of INR10 lakh for MVP
L-Vend already having 3 paying customers for their liquid dispenser
Parking Hero conducting pilots in four parking lots in New Delhi.
We at Cisco have always been a big believer of giving back and developing a culture of innovation. I am so proud to be part of an initiative that helps local young local entrepreneurs to solve local community problems, and help make a difference in the world, one step at a time.
As we say in Cisco, between an idea and a solution to real life problems, there’s a bridge – Cisco thingQbator. I look forward to many more amazing innovations from our students in next year of this program!