Tech Open Air 2018: Connecting Startups and Large Enterprises

At the Tech Open Air in Berlin, startups and established companies discussed the right forms of working together. SAP attended the event this year and shared the numerous advantages of SAP.iO.

Its reliable infrastructure makes Berlin a mecca for startups and tech companies, not just in Germany, but throughout Europe. Since 2012, Tech Open Air has served as a platform for cross-company dialogue and collaboration within this ecosystem. This year was no different: Founders of tech startups and representatives from companies such as IBM, Accenture, and SAP all met in a former broadcasting center in East Berlin to share experiences and advice with each other.

Waiting for the Final Countdown

Dr. Jeanette Epps gave conference attendees some special advice. The NASA astronaut and former technical intelligence officer at the CIA impressed the audience with her professional reaction to disappointments in her life. Epps was set to become the first black female crew member of the International Space Station and passed even the most difficult tests in Europe, Russia, and the U.S. But in January, NASA suddenly withdrew her from both of her planned Soyuz missions without giving any explanation. She hopes to find out why in August. Epps doesn’t see any reason to be upset, though; she advised all aspiring and hard-working entrepreneurs to be strong willed and patient, because these were the qualities that helped her to succeed in a typically male-dominated field.

See Things From Your End Users’ Perspective

Phil Gilbert, general manager of Design at IBM, explained in his presentation that patience is a virtue that is becoming increasingly important even for large enterprises. While the 20th century was largely marked by universal commodification, speed and diversity would be at the core of the 21st century, he said. Adjusting to this shift would also be a challenge for established companies. But Gilbert gave an example from his personal experience as proof that a company can change its way of thinking.

After founding several startups himself, Gilbert joined IBM when it purchased one of his companies. His wish as a designer was not to lose the end user view of the startup world. So he started to streamline his new department’s mushrooming product portfolio, reducing the number of products from several dozen to just four. Soon after doing this, his department’s revenue doubled – even though the market itself had only grown by 10 percent in that time. Gilbert’s managers didn’t wait long, his approach was extended across the entire company.

What began from experience and intuition is now a well established, standardized methodology: design thinking. Consistently seeing things from the user’s perspective requires every employee to become decision makers who put themselves in the end user’s shoes. Combining this approach with diverse teams ensures that comprehensive feedback is reflected in operating processes as quickly as possible. Part of this approach is treating the product as a prototype that is constantly being developed. True to the “fail early and fail often” approach, SAP uses design thinking to identify and solve unforeseeable difficulties as soon as possible.

Conference participants learned about design thinking.

Guarantee Speed with Startups

Benjamin Perlzweig, digital transformation senior manager at Accenture also identified speed as a deciding factor for future success. The much-quoted saying – that 40 percent of today’s successful companies won’t exist in the future – is optimistic, he warned. To maintain a top spot among the competition, companies not only have to follow new approaches, such as design thinking, they also have to actively collaborate with startups, he said.

In a lot of cases, startups have already developed solutions to stem the future needs of companies. Instead of trying to replicate the way in which startups work, it would be better to facilitate mutual understanding and create space for creativity, he added. Enabling startups to use rooms without imposing a particular dress code and strict working hours and deadlines could help bridge differences in company cultures, he explained.

Space for startups bridges cultural divides.

Scaling Innovations Fast

In SAP.iO, SAP has a project that fosters both internal and external startups. San Francisco, Berlin, New York, Tel Aviv, and Paris: All of these cities are home to SAP.iO Foundries with different focuses. Alexandra Gorman, global vice president for SAP.iO Fund and SAP.iO Foundries, used her presentation at Tech Open Air to explain how ongoing communication between startups and SAP is managed: “With SAP.iO, SAP emphasizes its commitment to fostering open innovation — startups do not have to sacrifice openness when working with SAP and SAP customers. This commitment is reflected in the high level of support we have received from managers and board members in the Foundry.”

It’s a working relationship where everyone is on the same level: Startups profit from SAP’s network of customers, internal test users, and extensive expertise, while SAP is able to keep offering its customers the latest innovations.

Florian Frey, product manager at SAP.iO, is co-founder of Ruum by SAP, designed to simplify project management. He was able to share his experience with SAP.iO as an entrepreneur and take away any reservations about SAP-internal accelerators. “Four weeks after we released our product, users from over 600 companies had registered to use our tool,” he said. “That wouldn’t have happened without the support from SAP.”

Thanks to the initiative, SAP customers are able to get involved in the development of innovative solutions at an early stage. Dirk Ploss, head technology scout at Beiersdorf, which manufactures Nivea products, was in the audience for SAP’s presentation and was able to confirm the benefits of the program for his employer. “For us, it was a pleasure working with the SAP.iO team, and being able to access upcoming technologies and startups was great. We were never overrun by them. We were always on equal footing and consistently felt positive about our collaboration.”

He believes that cross-company collaborations will be unavoidable in the near future. “By working with Bewgle, for example, we were able to come up with a new way of assessing our customer feedback online. This helped us get a better idea of the topics that interest our customers and of how they see our products,” explained Ploss.

Top image via Stefan Wieland/Tech Open Air.