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Emulate India? They just got $100 million from Cisco

Submitted by doug.peeples on March 23, 2016

The story below begs at least two questions. The first is: "How do you get the private sector to invest in your local economy?" In my view, it starts with regional collaboration, so your aggregated demand is big enough to be meaningful to the private sector. It continues with commitments to change policy to unleash growth. And from there, it takes an agreement from your top-level politicals to ask and keep on asking.

The second question is: "What's the best way to spend such investments?" And here we have some clear guidance from Cisco. The biggest chunk will go to investments in early- and growth-stage companies working on tech innovations. Another piece will go to innovation labs to generate new technologies for commercialization. Another piece will go to educating the technical workforce those companies will need to grow and prosper.

In other words, the private sector is more likely to invest if it believes a) the opportunity is big enough, b) you will remove the obstacles to growth and c) your region will have the innovation infrastructure needed for growth. But wait... aren't these three things that you want to do anyway? -- Jesse Berst

Council Lead Partner Cisco already has a long track record of investment in India. Over the last several years it has invested in 25 start-up companies and set up its Cisco Networking Academy, a program dedicated to IT skills training and career development for students.

Now, the company is planning to invest $100 more in those two areas -- as well as for six innovation labs and three expertise centers -- and to provide financial support for collaborations with universities in selected Indian states that have shown their commitment to digital technologies, the Internet of Things, smart cities and improving their citizens' lives.

Doubling up on education programs
As part of its expanded investment strategy, Cisco's new goal for its student education program, the Cisco Networking Academy, is to provide a talent pool of 250,000 skilled technology professionals to meet the country's needs as its digitization and smart cities initiatives take hold and grow. The company plans to do that by increasing the program's access to education, research and technology. The Networking Academy in India has already trained more than 110,000 students since the program began through collaborative arrangements with education institutions, public agencies and non-profits.

A leg up for start-ups
Cisco will spend $40 million of its total new investment on helping early-stage and growth stage startups with a specific focus on IoT, cloud, security, smart cities, financial services, healthcare and e-government. As Cisco has done in other programs -- such as its IoT Talent Consortium -- the company wants to be involved in the development of start-ups with a combination of incubators, accelerator programs and funding options.

Collaborating on India's digital transformation
The third part of Cisco's investment plan is the creation of innovation labs, centers of expertise and university collaborations in those Indian states that can attract developers and researchers, entrepreneurs and start-ups, accelerators and other partners to build businesses that will have something to offer in digital technologies, IoT and smart cities. The overall plan for the state-level digitization, technology and smart cities efforts is to help regions grow their economies by creating those new businesses, new jobs and a workforce ready to meet the demands of those jobs and businesses.

As John Chambers, Cisco Executive Chairman commented "Digitization goes beyond connectivity. The impact of digitization is far-reaching, helping countries maintain global competitiveness, foster innovation and create jobs. Education and Internet are two equalizers in life. With our increased investments in education and innovation, we are harnessing the power of technology to launch a generation of problem solvers who will innovate like technologists, think like entrepreneurs and act as social change agents."

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Doug Peeples is a Portland, Oregon-based writer specializing in technology and energy. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.