As a serial entrepreneur in Israel, Vitaly Vainer built and sold several successful businesses. But after the birth of his first child, he wanted a more stable, corporate environment and joined SAP in 2007.
That doesn’t mean he left behind his entrepreneurial spirit. While spearheading product development for flagship products like SAP Fiori Cloud, he mentored outside startups.
Now, almost 12 years later, Vainer is the general manager of Dabra, a startup within SAP. Vainer says, “We worked on different ideas for about a year, all focused on the future of work.” The team of four people, all based in Ra’anana, Israel, submitted a proposal to SAP.iO to create an application that would foster stronger workplace relationships, which included a chatbot integration with Slack.
SAP.iO is a business unit within SAP that supports internal and external innovators. The SAP.iO Venture Studio program provides funding and other resources for SAP intrapreneurs, or an entrepreneur within a larger organization, like Vainer. Once accepted into the program, the Dabra team received seed funding, executive mentorship, and, most importantly, the ability to focus 100 percent on creating a meaningful solution that was adopted.
“We created the chatbot on Slack within 45 days but there wasn’t significant usage. So we shut it down and came up with the idea to bring a bot into Outlook email and calendaring functions,” says Vainer. The team also refined its audience, focusing on users who have a lot of 1:1 meetings, like chief operating officers.
Since its release in October 2018, Dabra software by SAP has attracted almost 1,300 users, one-third of whom are outside of SAP. With almost six months left of support from SAP.iO, Vainer hopes Dabra’s funding is extended so that they can keep growing adoption.
With successes like Dabra and project management and collaboration platform Ruum by SAP, SAP.iO understands how to keep the entrepreneurial spark alive in a big company. SAP.iO recently held a series of educational events for its innovators and executive mentors. Below are some tips from participants about how larger organizations can nurture intrapreneurship.
Empowerment, Autonomy, Accountability
Max Wessel heads up the New Ventures and Technologies unit at SAP and is managing director of SAP Silicon Valley. After starting his career in product development at three venture-backed startups and a stint as a venture capitalist, he moved from Sapphire Ventures, an independent venture capital firm funded by SAP, to found SAP.iO Venture Studio.
“In the valley, there are a lot of conversations about investment and funding rounds,” he says. “But supporting intrapreneurs is really about empowerment and autonomy. It’s about creating an entire system to give authority to the CEO, with some checks, and a system to empower employees to own their business.”
Wessel explains that it’s not capital and personal wealth that motivates people, it’s the drive to solve a big problem. He designed SAP.iO Venture Studio to give employees the runway to do that, but they are also held accountable to a board of executive advisors, who act like a board of directors. They must meet targets and provide transparency into their progress.
The Studio Model: Nurture with the Right Resources
Graham Ratcliffe came to SAP two years ago through its acquisition of Abakus, which helps companies optimize marketing spend. Ratcliffe, who co-founded Abakus, took the reigns as the new general manager of SAP.iO at the start of this month.
He believes the studio model employed by SAP.iO is critical in helping to support emerging ventures within SAP and turn them into sustainable enterprises. “Once we invest in ideas, we have a studio team to give them a leg up and help with design, product development, and engineering,” he says. “Those are hard things to hire early on, so our studio provides them to entrepreneurs to help them get going until they’re able to build their own team.”
As Wessel points out, Google’s famous 80/20 mantra, where employees can spend 20 percent of their time on innovation, was not sustainable for entrepreneurship. “People still had their day jobs, so it turned into 120 percent.” So he set things up differently at SAP.iO. When teams are accepted into the SAP.iO Venture Studio program, employees can dedicate themselves 100 percent to creating a new product and launching their company.
That makes all the difference for many employees. Vainer says, “Working full time on Dabra allowed us to create our solution much faster. We had time to develop, fail, and then come up with new solutions.”
Protect Innovation and Innovators
Finally, for intrapreneurship to flourish in a big company it’s important to provide a haven for innovators that is separate from everyday business. Dabra operates separately within SAP.iO, and as a result Vainer says, “Compared to innovation in the regular product development cycle, it is a huge change. We can use any technology we want and we’re able to make financial decisions much faster.”
Rooly Eliezerov is an advisor for Dabra and entrepreneur who co-founded Gigya, the customer privacy company acquired by SAP in 2017. “The only way to maintain a startup mindset is to have an organization that’s walled off from the bigger company,” he says. “That’s why SAP.iO is great, because it helps to foster the startup mindset where it exists versus teaching it. You can’t teach a startup mindset, but you can help nurture it.”