Walking the Talk: SAP Invests in Female and Diverse-Led Startups

In support of SAP’s commitment to the United Nation’s Global Goals, SAP.iO Foundries are supporting underrepresented founders in B2B tech. Meet the SAP.iO Foundry Berlin startup cohort and find out what drives them.

In January 2019, SAP announced SAP.iO No Boundaries, the first comprehensive, inclusive entrepreneurship initiative for underrepresented entrepreneurs in the business software industry, with a goal to support at least 200 startups around the world by 2023 founded or led by underrepresented entrepreneurs, including up to 40 percent of the investable capital in the SAP.iO Fund.

Welcoming the new startup cohort of the SAP.iO Foundry Berlin, Ram Jambunathan, senior vice president and managing director of SAP.iO, explained the incentive behind the decision: “At SAP, we’re focused on solving the world’s most complex business problems. To tackle problems at a global scale requires a diversity of thought that includes the viewpoints of everyone. That includes female entrepreneurs, minority entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurs from emerging markets. These groups get a disproportionately small share of overall startup funding and support, but the data shows that they produce strong returns. It’s good business sense to support these entrepreneurs.”

Alexa Gorman, senior vice president and head of SAP.iO Foundries EMEA, is pleased that SAP is offering an inclusive accelerator program for the first time in Europe. “SAP.iO Foundries in the U.S. have offered dedicated programs for historically underinvested-in groups before,” she says. “But in Europe, this is the first diversity-focused accelerator program – not just for SAP, but across enterprise tech.” It’s important for SAP to run such a program in Europe because, even compared to the U.S. where a mere 16 percent of startups with a female founder get funding, in Europe this number drops to seven percent.

“Startups join SAP.iO Foundries in order to accelerate their business,” says Jambunathan. “They have a product and first customers. They join our accelerator for three reasons: they get access to curated mentorship, they get opportunities to meet and collaborate with our customers, and they get the chance of their solution being technically integrated into SAP’s applications, platforms, or technical landscapes.”

An Asset to SAP’s Open Ecosystem

The startups that have been chosen by the SAP.iO Foundries over the last years are making up a family of over 125 now. SAP.iO Foundries EMEA’s Alexa Gorman says, “We are building up an open and inclusive ecosystem around SAP’s products with these startups and their innovative solution.”

“We chose those startups because we want to help our customers get highly incremental value from the investments they have made or are planning to make in SAP,” says Astrid Freier, head of SAP.iO Foundry Berlin. “Our customers expect us to bring them the best innovations out there – and that includes those created by women and diverse teams.”


The SAP.iO Fund invests in external, early-stage enterprise software startups that enable SAP customers to realize new, highly incremental value to investments in SAP solutions. If you are a startup or know of any startups in that space looking for funding, please have them apply here.

The SAP.iO Foundry offers a founder-friendly, no-equity program providing access to SAP technologies and opportunities for exposure to SAP customers. If you know of startups interested in joining us, applications for the SAP.iO Foundry NYC (focused on Health) and SAP.iO Foundry San Francisco (focused on Experience Management) are still open!

If you are interested in learning more about SAP’s first comprehensive, inclusive entrepreneurship initiative for underrepresented entrepreneurs in the business software industry, learn more at SAP.iO No Boundaries.


The incoming cohort of women and diverse-led startups will pass through the SAP.iO Foundry Berlin between May and August 2019:

The Machine as a Customer: ZKSystems

“I’ve always wanted to develop a technology that really creates an impact,” says Amine Ünal, CTO of ZKSystems, software engineer, and expert for industrial IoT. “That’s how I got interested in blockchain: it solves the human problem of trust by mathematical means.”

Before ZKSystems, Ünal used to work as a software developer for T-Systems and developed IoT projects for thyssenkrupp and Airbus as well as engineered a smart factory for Adidas. The blockchain community in Berlin is where she and her co-founder Diana met, won hackathons together, and realized how well they worked as a team.

They founded ZKSystems, which offers a scalable blockchain protocol for Industrial IoT. Their target group is machine manufacturers looking for ways to offer additional services. “For example, 3D printers can be shared among various manufacturers,” explains Ünal. “Pay-per-use with a blockchain behind it makes this possible in a secure way.”

“Manufacturing is on its way to the end-to-end automated Smart-Factory-as-a-Service that serves several manufacturers at once,” says Ünal. “Our customers get access to usage data via the pay-per-use model, which allows them to offer additional services.”

ZKSystems’ co-founder Diana Rees says, “We enable a new business model for a completely new group of customers: machines that can order parts and conclude payments. We can connect SAP to this new target group and they can help us reach out to more customers.”

She adds, “SAP has a track record of developing innovative IT business models for enterprises. We learn a lot from them.”

While they would have approached SAP sooner or later in any case, SAP.iO accelerated this process for diverse teams and outstanding female founders. “In my experience, gender bias does affect female founders,” says Rees, who founded two startups before ZKSystems. “But, it’s not a show-stopper.”

“Of course, we want to see more female founders,” says Ünal. “In my opinion, this also helps them to become aware of their own worth. This program shows that SAP recognizes this.”

Mixed Team Makes a Difference: ScanTrust

“For us at ScanTrust, it is important how people feel,” says Jennifer Wu, CFO of Switzerland-based startup ScanTrust, which experienced 100 percent growth since she joined the company in 2015. “We promote complete transparency. When our employees feel things are not going in the right direction, they can express their opinion. We’ve never had a big turnover in employees.” ScanTrust has close to 40 employees, approximately one third of which are female.

“It’s a huge difference whether you have a mixed team,” says Ricardo Garcia, head of Partnerships and Blockchain Advisory at ScanTrust. “It saves us from adopting a one-sided view on the world and increases the number of angles we can look at something from.”

ScanTrust offers an Enterprise SaaS platform focused on product digitalization. Their IP is a secure QR code that serves as a unique identifier for a physical product. “Brand owners can trace their products and engage with the end user,” says Wu. “Also, specific information from a blockchain or a cloud can be stored behind each product that customers can access via the QR code. Thanks to the security of the code, brand owners can also protect themselves against counterfeit.”

She explains why ScanTrust applied for SAP.iO Foundries: “Our business model is similar to SAP’s: enterprise software with long sales cycles. There’s an overlap in our client base so we are looking at SAP as a potential partner at some point. The technical integration is important because if customers can use their SAP with our solution that’s a way for us to scale.”

ScanTrust is now in a similar position as SAP was in pre-R3 times, according to Wu. “I would like to learn about the tools that SAP put in place in its early days before its business truly took off.”

Selling Bias-Free Matches: Jobful

Jobful’s CEO Mihai Cepoi worked in SAP SuccessFactors sales but left SAP to pursue his dream of founding a company of his own. Three years later, he and his older sister Joana founded Jobful together with Bianca Ene, whom they met at university in Bucharest. The team currently consists of six employees and has a 50-50 male-female ratio.

Jobful is a gamified recruiting platform on which candidates play games and do tests evaluating such skills as adaptability or logical thinking.

“Basically, we’re selling matches between recruiters and candidates. It was our customers who brought in the idea of not just recruiting candidates for open positions, but also prepping them for jobs,” says Cepoi. By now, Jobful offers branded curricula for a variety of roles in sales, marketing, and finance. The idea is to find out whether a person can actually be taught the relevant tasks.

Joana Cepoi’s role as Jobful’s “organizational happiness pursuer” includes striving for a culture of inclusion for their company. “What we practice in our team also shows in our product,” she explains. “You won’t find any diversity markers in the profile of our candidates. Once or twice customers asked for filters regarding gender, age, ethnicity, and so on, but we refuse to support such an agenda. We believe in the same chances for everyone.”

“As the CEO, I’m the face associated with Jobful, but my sister’s role is the most important,” says Cepoi. “Even though we’re at a very early stage, we see in our daily work why culture is so crucial to a company.”

Knowing SAP SuccessFactors very well, Cepoi feels that Jobful would be an asset to SAP’s human resources software. “As a growing organization, we want to learn from SAP, especially as we’re planning on going abroad with our products. And, of course, we are looking for ways to finance our growth.”

The Business of Appreciation: MoBerries

“The central question for my career has been, how can I make money by building a system that helps drive value by helping people grow?” says Mo Moubarak, co-founder of MoBerries.

“Growing up in Toronto in a community with lots of immigrants, I came to understand how for people with an immigrant background regardless of their gender there’s very often a glass wall they have to overcome when they want to become a part of society – like for women, there’s a glass ceiling,” says Moubarak. “I started wondering what could be done to fulfill the promise of new beginning. It is essential to me that people, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic background, do not lose hope, like a sports agent for regular people.”

Together with two co-founders in his chosen home city of Berlin, Moubarak developed the platform for a shared talent pool where appreciation for candidates enhances their profiles. Every candidate a company interviews but doesn’t hire, they can opt into a pool.

“We aim to create a bidding war for your service,” says Moubarak. “The appreciation you receive raises your self-confidence and you can negotiate better – you can start not just looking for money but for the best fit concerning your values and standards.”

Companies, on the other hand, don’t waste time looking for new candidates, but get matched to them via a sourcing channel. Moubarak explains: “By showing appreciation, you expand your network and get the perfect match for your open positions because your requirements create a quality filter over time.”

MoBerries has customers that are also customers of SAP, which makes the technical integration with SAP landscapes a logical next step. “By collaborating with SAP, we can enlarge our own customer base here in Germany,” Moubarak says. “SMEs are the engine of the economy here and they trust in an established brand like SAP. And we want to learn how SAP runs its organization both from a technology and operational perspective.”

Democratizing Augmented Reality: Augmania

Egyptian-born Rania Reda had been in the business of augmented reality (AR) for many years when she got stuck on the question of why there weren’t more companies adopting AR. What followed were six months of intensive research compiling the AR experiences of the past 10 years, categorizing by industry and analyzing best practices.

The conclusion: “AR is expensive, complicated, takes a long time to build, and you cannot estimate the outcome of an AR campaign until after the fact.” Up to the challenge, Reda moved to Silicon Valley in order to build her third company, Augmania, whose team is now spread across San Francisco, Berlin, Tunisia, and Egypt.

“Looking back, I have to say that being a female solo founder with a middle-eastern and Muslim background made it much harder to fundraise than I’d expected,” Reda says. “I found out soon enough that in the Valley, certain stamps are helpful, such as being white, male, ex-Stanford, or ex-Google. I’d expected a very mature ecosystem that supports women entrepreneurs – actually, it wasn’t the case.”

Based on the findings of their research, Reda and her team built a self-serving app for AR. “You don’t need to have a lot of technical knowledge,” she says. “You upload your images, videos, and audio files and we will integrate it into an AR media. You don’t even have to download an app, as the result can be viewed via a simple browser link.” Augmania then offers full insights into how people react to and engage with the AR content.

Reda and her team applied for the SAP.iO Foundry program because they felt that Augmania could be an added value to many of SAP’s application for sales, marketing, and CRM. “What differentiates SAP.iO from other accelerators is that here is an objective with a strategy behind it. You’re in here because you’re fitting the criteria it is looking for and then you can potentially integrate with its applications and create value for its customers.”

Inspiring female founders is a matter very close to Reda’s heart. “Often enough the only thing that stops young women is a lack of belief in themselves. I want to be a role-model to young women by showing that you don’t have to choose between a career and having a family.”

The Diversity of Thought: Hardskills

“At Hardskills, we change mindsets,” says COO Shoba Purushothaman. “Today, everybody everywhere is being impacted by digitalization, internationalization, globalization. We need to open up our minds to new ways of working, new ways of thinking, and much faster change.”

Hardskills is an online learning platform that trains workforces in behavioral skills such as critical thinking, how to collaborate, how to delegate, and how to communicate effectively in virtual teams.

But shouldn’t it really be “softskills” then? “On the contrary,” says Purushothaman. “These things are hard to teach and hard to learn, much more so than coding, for example.” While completion rates in online training are notoriously low, Hardskills scores 80 percent in completion. “Our content is like watching a Netflix movie, but it’s designed to change behavior and mindsets, to unlock biases. You need to trigger emotional reactions to rewire how someone views a situation.”

“Diversity is diversity of thought to us,” says Krish Menon, CTO of Hardskills. “Only a diverse-thinking team can be aware of all the possibilities.” In Hardskills’s team of 12, there are nine different nationalities, with a 50-50 ratio between male and female. “We understand that people don’t have to look exactly the same or do things the same way to be successful as a group,” says Menon. “It’s fantastic that SAP has created this program especially for diverse-led startups. This program is helping to move the debate from a corporate social responsibility initiative to a business opportunity.”

Purushothaman adds, “All the big tech companies have accelerators now, but for us, SAP is an ideal fit because our customer base is companies that have 50,000 employees and more. That is an exact mapping of SAP’s most important customers. Also, our product fits in nicely with SAP SuccessFactors and Qualtrics.”