For more than 20 years, Moritz Zimmermann has been an entrepreneur. He helped found hybris — an omnichannel ecommerce company acquired by SAP in 2013 — right out of university and is a self-professed lover of new technology and the startup mentality.

Now, as chief technology officer for the SAP Customer Experience organizational unit responsible for developing the SAP C/4HANA suite of customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, he’s nurturing an innovation ecosystem that will complement and extend the reach of the suite.

In collaboration with Zimmermann’s team, SAP will officially launch a new startup accelerator in Munich, Germany, on May 14. Designed to support young companies developing customer experience solutions, the center is part of SAP.iO Foundries, an SAP-run accelerator program focused on early-stage enterprise startups with locations in Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Paris, and Tel Aviv.

For Zimmermann, SAP’s engagement with startups is an opportunity to “cross-pollinate” between both parties. “I coach quite a few of these startups but it’s not just a one-way conversation. I run questions by them and the answers are often on the opposite side of the spectrum compared to what I get from colleagues – so it’s interesting to consider both,” he says.

It’s also an opportunity to fill in white space in the SAP C/4HANA portfolio. Zimmerman believes startups can add a lot in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), content management, and helping to globalize and localize solutions. For example, “There’s a lot of variety across the globe in how payment works. We need partners and startups to help try to fill that gap and integrate different payment modalities, regulations, and process,” says Zimmermann.

Another example is digital search, a space that new technology is turning upside-down. Zimmermann explains: “Now you can take a photo of something and visual analysis can search and show you similar garments. That kind of intellectual property doesn’t come from SAP, but a startup — Syte.AI — and now there’s tons of interest from customers. That’s a great example of accelerating innovation.

Zimmerman also sees partners, particularly independent software vendors (ISVs), as critical players in this ecosystem. He says there are thousands of vendors creating specialized solutions that improve different aspects of businesses’ front-end operations. In his view, there’s no reason for SAP to compete and if SAP can easily connect customers to those solutions, that strengthens its relationship with customers and is a win-win for everyone.

From a technical standpoint, integrating innovation from startups and ISVs hinges on the fact that so many customers are moving to a microservices architecture. That means a company can easily drop in “services,” particular functionality, from software providers into their SAP C/4HANA solutions. SAP offers its own microservices infrastructure called SAP Cloud Platform Extension Factory, which lets outside vendors and customers integrate those offerings more easily into their existing SAP CRM systems. The new customer experience cohort at the SAP.iO Foundry will connect solutions via the factory.

The Munich-based foundry will seek applicants developing digital commerce and multichannel customer engagement applications. Solution developed by the startups will connected to SAP Customer Experience solutions via SAP Cloud Platform Extension Factory. Founders can apply through July 1. The first cohort is scheduled to start in September 2019.

For more information, visit the SAP.iO Foundry Munich website. This week, meet with startups focused on improving customer experience at SAP Customer Experience LIVE.