- The overall winner (Wisy) is an SAP.iO company
- 3 of the top 6 were from SAP.iO
- 11 SAP.iO companies participated
Given the success of these SAP.iO participants, I wanted to get more insights into the workings of the program. So I connected with Max Kahn, the director of SAP.iO Foundries (the startup partnership arm of the expansive program) to discuss the program, the process of identifying startups to include, as well as how SAP.iO and the startups work together to foster growth for these innovators.
Built for Innovation
SAP.iO launched in 2017 and, since then, has invested in 450 startups, 165 of which have solutions that are currently live and listed in the SAP store. More than 270 of those companies remain SAP partners.
It initially included a venture capital investment arm that would contribute pre-seed and seed rounds of funding. The focus has since shifted to place greater emphasis on supporting companies in the program in other ways besides financial backing. By downplaying investments, the company avoids conflicts of interest as it continues to build out an open ecosystem of software partners.
“We’re constantly working with customers and account teams to help identify customers’ challenges,” Kahn says. “We act as a matchmaker between corporations and startups to bring innovation in the cloud.”Max Kahn, director, SAP.iO Foundries
Startup selection begins with a recruitment process that includes a “giant referral network” of venture capitalists, employees, customers, and other stakeholders, Kahn says. There’s an open application process, with criteria defined for each period that includes an industry, solution area (examples include CX, sustainability, Web3, and so on), and geographic location. With 11 SAP.iO offices spread around the world, these programs play out 15 to 20 times per year.
There are thousands of incoming applications that initially get narrowed to 100, with 25 then invited to selection day and six to 10 that are ultimately accepted. Factors that help startups make the cut include maturity of the company, quality of founders, relevance to the SAP solution and ecosystem, and uniqueness of their technology.
SAP has about 30 full-time employees working on the program, roughly two in each of the cities with accelerators, Kahn says. In addition, a “few thousand” collaborators and mentors in the broader SAP organization engage with the startups as well.
What’s in It for the Startups
The two biggest benefits to the startups are mentorship from SAP leaders and customer connections, Kahn says.
Mentorship “means courses and workshops from SAP execs and subject matter experts. From integration scenarios to architectures to sharing knowledge on topics like price/commercialization and bringing in folks from across the business to educate founders to learn from SAP’s perspective,” he explains.
Startups also gain access to SAP account teams and customers, so that innovators and prospective customers can interact. Plus, startups gain the ability to associate their nascent brand with SAP’s mature enterprise brand.
“We’re constantly working with customers and account teams to help identify customers’ challenges,” Kahn says. “We act as a matchmaker between corporations and startups to bring innovation in the cloud.”
Customer access is so important because, for a startup, building credibility with customers is one of the biggest challenges, he says. Being able to put an unknown logo next to a trusted, enterprise logo such as SAP goes a long way with customers.
What’s in It for SAP Customers
Customers, especially those with their own innovation teams, get access to innovators with the knowledge that their products align well with SAP environments, rather than starting open-ended long-term searches. “Innovation arms of SAP customers can get overwhelmed very easily because there’s so much out there,” Kahn says. A customer may be looking for people analytics technology, but a broad search may net a nearly infinite number of potential solutions. “Whereas an HR innovation manager might actually be looking to provide an incremental process improvement in an existing environment. They can work with us and know the HR analytics solution will be integrated with SuccessFactors. It takes away the guesswork to derisk the innovation process.”
Among the 11 SAP.iO companies that participated in the Cloud Wars Expo Innovation Path program in late June, shortlisted companies included Crosschq and Specright, while Wisy won the overall competition. Wisy develops an AI-based retail execution app.
“The SAP.iO program enabled a strategic partnership with SAP to position Wisy’s image intelligence solution in the consumer goods and retail industry,” says Min Chen, CEO of Wisy. “We have benefited from SAP’s deep industry insights and exclusive network of customers worldwide that continuously accelerate innovation and growth at Wisy.”
Wisy CEO Min Chen says engaging with SAP’s customers helps her company accelerate innovation and growth.
SAP.iO’s Kahn wasn’t surprised to see Wisy shine in the Cloud Wars Expo competition. “Wisy represents the intersection of the art of the possible with the reality of right now, where they solve a problem so many customers have and then they’re also able to deliver on it in real life,” he says. “What Min does really nicely is to show, not tell. It resonates because it’s not just a mockup, it works really well for a lot of large customers.”
One of the program’s key objectives is to help its customers drive better business results. “All this comes from a place of helping customers. We have one of the strongest portfolios of cloud solutions today, and one of the largest bases of customers,” Kahn says. “At the same time, customers have a lot of things they’re trying to revolutionize and we can’t solve everything as just SAP, so we’re being humble and doing it in an inclusive way.”
To see Wisy and the rest of the Innovation Path startup presentations, make sure to check out Cloud Wars Expo‘s on-demand offerings, which are accessible for free to all Acceleration Economy subscribers with an on-demand pass. The overall lineup of video sessions is starting to roll out now, and eventually, more than 40 hours of educational content from 100-plus speakers will be available.