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John Chambers: Make Every State a Startup State

"We used to be a country of dreamers." Photo credit: Paul Sakuma

John Chambers, soon to be unleashed from his role as Executive Chairman of Cisco after 26 years there, spoke passionately about the need for the United States to regain its startup mojo.

Speaking at Monday’s session of Techonomy 2017, Chambers said the United States needs a digital national agenda as the looming digital transformation will destroy jobs, increase inequality, and put the country at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world.

“We think we’re the best at startups,” he said, “but we’re the worst. We used to be a country of dreamers. I think we’ve lost our ability to dream.”

Sounding at times like a candidate for office, Chambers called for a nationwide “startup nation,” not one confined to the two coasts. Digitization, he said, will destroy jobs; we need startups that are inclusive of the whole country to replace them.

Once he leaves Cisco at the end of the year, Chambers will set out to create the model. He will be investing in roughly a dozen startups throughout the country and in a few outside countries. He’s especially bullish on India.

“Let’s make every state a startup state,” Chambers said.

His investment strategy will be focused on companies that can anticipate the next set of market transitions.

John Chambers gets up close and personal to answer a question from an attendee.

Chambers, who famously championed the Internet and grew Cisco on the back of that transition, said Silicon Valley runs the risk of missing upcoming transitions because it has fallen out of touch with the rest of America. He cited the Valley’s interest in a basic universal income as an example of its lack of insight into the rest of the country.

He suggested that in lieu of a national agenda, states will create their own once they’ve seen the benefits of startups.

“The market waits for no one,” he said. “It’s disrupt or be disrupted.”

 

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