Cisco Top In European Startup Collaboration Thanks To London Activities

By: Freddie Dawson, Forbes contributer

Cisco has been ranked as the top corporate for startup collaboration in Europe, according to a new study.

The 25 best companies were revealed at the Startup Europe Summit in Berlin yesterday. Joining tech company Cisco in the top five were respectively: Rabobank, a banking and financial services company; Unilever , a consumer goods company; Telefonica, a telecommunications firm; and Virgin, another telecommunications firm.

The rankings were compiled by  Startup Europe Partnership, an EC initiative aimed at increasing collaboration between startups and corporations, and Nesta, a UK-based charity focused on innovation.

The decision was made by a panel of expert judges that included:

  • Sherry Coutu, author of The Scale-up Report and an angel investo
  • Alberto Onetti, chairman of Mind the Bridge, an entrepreneurial education organisation
  • Dolf Wittkamper, head of European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Digital’s Accelerator
  • Candace Johnson, an entrepreneur that helped to start a number of businesses including SES , Loral Teleport Europe and Europe Online

The judges initially started with a list of around 70 nominations before whittling it down to the 25 that made the final top ranking. Corporates could be nominated by other companies, startups they worked with or self-nominate but had to meet certain size criteria to qualify, says  Chris Haley, head of startup research at Nesta.

Accepted nominees were then asked to provide detailed information on how they interact with startups as well as scaleups. This included areas such as incubation, investment, procurement and even acquisitions.

“Each company has a flavour in the ways that it works with startups,” says Haley. “People are still experimenting with what works so we didn’t want to establish hard and fast criteria limiting the ranking to one area.”

The creators of the rankings felt it was important to highlight best-practice amongst corporates as not all companies had figured out the best reasons for engaging with startups or the best ways to go about doing so.

“ There are some that engage for frankly superficial reasons,” Haley adds. “There’s a few that want the cool factor while some go on fishing expeditions for ideas or  string a startup along and not treat it well. Some startups fail because they think a deal is around the corner when it isn’t. But the top companies do not do this [and that should be recognised].”

Judges had a certain amount of leeway in defining corporate criteria as well as choosing what areas they wanted to emphasise as most important. Further down the list, the different areas of emphasis led to dissenting opinions on companies.

However, there was general consensus on the top companies – although this may be down to them being strong all-rounders with activities in all areas of startup engagement, Haley adds.

“Cisco, Rabobank, and Unilever have all understood that their future lies in capturing and riding the next wave of innovation and entrepreneurship.  Although each of the ways that these Corporations do this differs, they have all not only put into place plans to secure the future of their companies [by working with startups],” says Candace Johnson, a judge for the rankings.

Cisco in particular came in for praise. “Cisco is really active in the European startup ecosystem at various levels. Not just in acquiring startups, but also in investing and supporting them. On the one hand, beyond direct investments, Cisco is also active as a [limited partner] LP in several European venture capital funds. On the other hand, the program Cisco Entrepreneurs in Residence [CEIR] just launched for Europe in London is very well designed to build long term strategic relations between Cisco business units and early stage companies. We expect concrete results out of that in terms both of commercial partnerships and acquisitions,” says  Alberto Onetti, another judge for the rankings.

Cisco was particularly proud of the recognition its CEIR programme received. The idea behind it was to create a continuum of offers and programmes where a startup coming in would be able to immediately talk to the right Cisco executive and business group, says Tom Yoritaka, global managing director of CEIR.

As part of the programme, the company engages with the entire startup eco-system – including policymakers, influencers, outside investors and many others on top of the startups that apply to join, he adds.

The company currently has over 30 strategic engagements with startups as a result of the programme and has acquired two startups – Pawaa, an Indian filing company and ParStream, a German analytics company.

The CEIR programme expanded to Europe with a launch in London on 5 may this year. Startups interested in taking part do not have to be based in London (or in California, the site of the original CEIR branch) but need to be able to base enough there to form an effective partnership, says Yoritaka.

In addition to the CEIR programme, Cisco also maintains an active investment portfolio which now has over 100 companies in 27 countries and valued at $2 billion, he adds.

And at the other end of the spectrum Cisco has various innovation programmes. These include nine community spaces that act as early stage incubators. For example in London Cisco has IDEA London based in Shoreditch, he says.

The company also runs a series of competitions called Cisco Grand Challenges that get startups to submit ideas on solving problems in various areas such as security or the internet of things (IOT).

“There are all just other ways to open up to startups,” Yoritaka adds.

The Startup Europe Partnership and Nesta say they were pleased with the responses they got from corporates nominated to take part. Not all companies submitted information when requested and some did not provide enough detail but there were enough entries for the first year to be judged a success, says Haley.

Further editions of the ranking are still under discussion. Currently the two organisations are looking to secure the funding required to run the list again next year. If they do it will be interesting to see whether anyone can knock Cisco off the top spot.