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Why I Can’t Take DFJ’s Global Business Plan Competition Seriously

If you watch the Fox show “24,” you know the extent to which it employs product placements. Over the years, the soon-to-disappear OQO handheld device has made a number of appearances in the hands of super agent Jack Bauer. The cameras often linger lovingly over the show’s various cell phones and their insignias, too. (It depends which is paying more that week: Sprint or NexTel.)

Yet the amount of airtime that “Cisco TelePresence” logo has enjoyed on the show, flashed across the flat-screen TVs of every organization from the administration to the FBI the Counter Intelligence Unit, practically constitutes a starring role. As reliably as Kiefer Sutherland himself, we’re led to believe year after year and episode after episode that the character’s virtual meetings happen thanks to Cisco.

No doubt placement on the show has helped drive awareness. Cisco itself said in March that TelePresence is its “fastest-growing” product category, with more than 300 customers and 2,000 systems deployed worldwide. (Then again, of the two “supporting quotes” about the service that accompanied Cisco’s announcement, one came from Creative Artists Agency. The other came from the VP and GM of the TelePresence Systems Business Unit.)

What I’m wondering is whether the company hasn’t overdone a good thing at this point.

When I read earlier today that Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Cisco are using the service to manage a global business plan competition, one whose finalists will present to a joint panel of DFJ and Cisco executives in San Jose, I didn’t think: great, entrepreneurs around the world can compete to win $250,000 and guidance from DFJ and Cisco. I thought about “24” and the absurdly fantastical capabilities that the technologies used on the show are accorded. I thought: all this contest needs now is for the judges to be delivered in a black Suburban, to face an impossible ethical dilemma, and to thwart an impending terrorist attack, using Cisco. Now that’d be a competition.