Feature Story

Mathilde Durvy helps others realize their innovation dreams

by Stephanie Chan

Mathilde Durvy helps others realize their innovation dreams

As one of Cisco's Innovation Program Leads, Durvy empowers everyone to innovate.

Mathilde Durvy makes innovation possible for people inside and outside of Cisco. As an innovator herself, Durvy knows the exact needs for every employee and startup who wants their biggest ideas to come to life.

As an Innovation Program Lead at Cisco, Durvy currently leads the "My Innovation" track of Cisco's People Deal, an initiative to empower every Cisco employee to innovate and make a meaningful difference. "My Innovation" provides vehicles for innovative ideas to emerge, be heard, and ultimately become a reality. It aims to create a culture where collaboration, risk taking, failing fast, and making a meaningful difference is rewarded. Specifically, her team is responsible for running the company's Innovation Hub and the Innovate Everywhere Challenge.

Accelerating innovative ideas 

The Innovate Everywhere Challenge is Cisco's yearly cross-functional innovation competition. It encourages all employees to submit innovative ideas for support, seed funding, and dedicated working time.

"The Innovate Everywhere Challenge's overall goal is to capture disruptive venture ideas from employees and help them grow. It is also a way to develop entrepreneurship skills and culture at Cisco," says Durvy.

Statistics for the most recent round of the Innovate Everywhere Challenge show that over 45% of Cisco's workforce logged into the Challenge site, and over 1500 employees submitted entries.

See also: Cisco Innovation Centers

Last year's winner EVAR, comprised of Cisco employees from around the world, pitched a suite of augmented and virtual reality services for Cisco collaboration tools—think virtual reality experiences within your Spark messaging tool. The product resulting from their effort "Cisco Spark VR" was recently announced at 2017's Enterprise Connect conference.

Creating the right connections

The Innovation Hub is Cisco's always-on portal for innovation. It connects people, their innovative ideas, and the resources to bring them to life. Close to 50 Cisco innovation programs and innovation events are present on The Hub.

The Hub encourages employees to participate by being "founders" and creating internal ventures, or by becoming "angels" and providing expertise, money, and encouragement.

"Innovation is rarely stalled by a lack of ideas. What gets in the way is a lack of nurturing. Hence angels are necessary to create an ecosystem supportive of innovation" says Durvy. An important aspect of the Innovation Hub is thus the Mentor Network, "Our Mentor Network has several thousand people who are willing to volunteer their time to make innovative ideas successful."

In addition, the Innovation Hub offers training to boost innovation skills—a great example of this is Startup//Cisco.

Startup//Cisco starts with a 3-day high intensity workshop that helps accelerate the validation of an idea using lean startup and design thinking. The workshop kicks off a 90-day acceleration cycle where mentors continue to work with the founder team to ensure progress.

"Startup//Cisco is a grassroots effort, it was created by Cisco employees for Cisco employees using industry-leading innovation principles and techniques" says Durvy, "It helps our employees think, act, and deliver successful innovation like a startup".

Beginnings of a pioneer

The Innovate Everywhere Challenge and the Innovation Hub are just two of the many innovation programs Durvy is in charge of leading—the participant's work not a far cry from her own when first joining the company.

Durvy's journey at Cisco began nine years ago after completing her PhD on wireless communications at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL).

Her transition from academia to corporate work at Cisco was an easy one, says Durvy.

See also: Alka: The master of her career

"I started doing research on the Internet of Things, right during the start of IoT. Together with a colleague, we developed what was at the time the tiniest IPv6 stack. This stack is now open-source and allows sensors and other tiny devices to communicate with our existing networks," Durvy says, "I was also part of some of the early smart grid pilots in Europe and it was great to witness the IoT in action, a perfect complement to my PhD which was more on the theoretical side".

Durvy's focus then switched to creating and developing Cisco's patent intelligence offering, enabling Cisco to extract strategic insights from the vast amount of patent data.

Her experience as an innovator gave Durvy exactly what she needed to be able to help other employees become pioneers in tech. 

Making a meaningful difference

I think being at Cisco just amplifies the impact of what you do.

Innovation, Durvy says, is creating something new and of value—and she sees Cisco accomplishing that in two ways. First is generating value through creating new products, services, or solutions, and second, through accomplishing things more simply and efficiently. 

The Innovate Everywhere Challenge and the Innovation Hub are great examples of how Cisco is empowering all of its employees to innovate and make a meaningful difference.

"Working at Cisco provides your innovative ideas the visibility they deserve and it allows them to scale more easily," says Durvy, "Being at Cisco amplifies the impact of what you do."

See also: Cisco Innovate Everywhere Challenge White Paper

The future of innovation at Cisco is clear for Durvy. The company is working towards innovating with employees and externally with startups, partners, customers and academia for better, newer solutions. Innovative ideas can come from anywhere and from anyone; Cisco's role is to foster and capture innovation wherever it is. 

With so much still left to explore for this forward-thinker, Durvy is sure to continue working to help others succeed, as well as pioneer her own innovation in the future.