Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award Finalist: Driving Inclusive Entrepreneurship

In the race to deliver the next big app, one SAP initiative is making diversity a priority by passing the baton to underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Each entrepreneurial endeavor starts with an innovative idea. Initially, the entrepreneurs are just as diverse as their ideas, but statistics show stark divergence among minorities and women at an early stage. Despite their share of the population in general, these founders are underrepresented in the tech industry for receiving support.

“When it comes to starting new companies and early-stage investing, the venture capital industry is very lopsided,” explains Vanessa Liu, vice president of SAP.iO Foundry North America. “To date, only 13 percent of U.S. venture capital funding goes to companies that have at least one female founder. Since 2009, black women have raised only six dollars of every $1 million in tech venture capital and the numbers for Hispanics, LGBTQ+, and other minority groups are similar.”

What’s more, almost 48 percent female founders cite a lack of available mentors as a major obstacle.

To close these gaps, the team behind the  SAP.iO Foundries program and SAP.iO Fund came up with an idea. In January 2019, they launched SAP.iO No Boundaries, an initiative designed to provide venture capital and acceleration support to underrepresented entrepreneurs in the business software industry. It is the first of its kind and one of eight finalists of the 2019 Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award.

Leveling the Playing Field for Entrepreneurs

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Leveling the Playing Field for Entrepreneurs


The Hasso Plattner Founders’ Award is the highest employee
recognition at SAP, awarded annually by the co-CEOs to an
individual or a team.


Supporting Women- and Minority-Led Startups

“What we find is that it’s not a pipeline issue, but more about the access to opportunities,” says Liu. “So much genius is out there waiting to solve urgent challenges — we just need to find them.”

Take the company Daivergent. CEO Byran Dai promised his dying mother that he would take care of his younger brother, who has autism. Daivergent specializes in helping highly talented individuals on the autism spectrum find work in a job market that is largely stacked against them. SAP.iO works with Daivergent founders and Rahul Mahida, who were inspired by personal experiences, had an innovation at hand, and qualify for SAP.iO No Boundaries because they are from East and South Asia.

SAP.iO No Boundaries sets out to find startups like these and helps them scale to achieve greater impact. SAP has pledged to commit up to 40 percent of the investable capital in the SAP.iO Fund and scale the SAP.iO Foundries program with a focus on inclusive entrepreneurship.

Delivering Value for Customers, Entrepreneurs, and SAP

The goal of SAP.iO No Boundaries is to create an integrated ecosystem of benefit to all stakeholders. SAP.iO Fund funds between 12 and 15 companies each year, while SAP.iO Foundries works with between 100 and 150 startups annually in its eight locations worldwide. Twice a year, SAP.iO Foundries runs 12- to 14-week programs with groups of seven to 10 startups that receive mentorship and workshops in pricing, sales, marketing, or design.

“The accelerator part is with no equity,” explains Anke Otto-Jungkind, vice president of Marketing and Communications for SAP.iO. “We are viewed as honest brokers by the startups and our customers.”

When asked about their own passion for SAP.iO No Boundaries, Liu and Otto-Jungkind both cite the collaboration within the team as a major driver, noting it is not just something to make them feel good about themselves. The initiative drives value to customers, startups, and SAP. They call it “the win-win-win model.”

Creating a Diverse Ecosystem

Daivergent’s number of employees has doubled since the team first started working with SAP.iO. The app is now included in the SAP Fieldglass portfolio and on SAP App Center, offering customers the opportunity to find exceptional talent.

“We are proud of our diverse portfolio and what we’ve achieved as a team,” says Liu. “But there is still a lot to do, like making the initiative more broadly known internally.”

Inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of the SAP founders, the team at SAP.iO is looking forward to helping even more entrepreneurs build business software of the future.

“This is one of those rare instances where you can make such dramatic leaps in innovation by looking at things with a different lens,” Otto-Jungkind shares. “We made the decision that we, as SAP, have to lead the way.”


Finalist Fast Facts

  • Submission Title: iO No Boundaries – Driving Inclusive Entrepreneurship to Deliver Valuable Customer Outcomes
  • Team: Joan Coury, Dima Durah, Alexandra Gorman, Ram Jambunathan, Sallie Jian, Max Kahn,
  • Vanessa Liu, Anke Otto-Jungkind, Shuchi Rana
  • Board area: Office of the CEO
  • Achievement: iO No Boundaries is committed to accelerating and funding rising stars of the next-generation ecosystem. The initiative supports groups of B2B software entrepreneurs who have historically received disproportionately less support than other groups. The startups receive tailored mentorship; workshops in pricing, sales, marketing, or design access to SAP executives and customers; and exposure to SAP technologies, including APIs. The team is closely collaborating with internal and external stakeholders, pursuing growth that is focused on value instead of volume. The goal is to work with 200 startups around the world by 2023.
  • Impact: The team drives inclusive entrepreneurship that benefits the startups, customers, and SAP. Today, more than 24 startups from the SAP.iO program are on SAP App Center and approximately 60 percent of startups that have worked with SAP.iO were founded or led by underrepresented entrepreneurs. Currently, the SAP.iO oundries program and SAP.iO Funds are recruiting for their next programs, which begin later in the first quarter of 2020 and focus on themes that include customer experience and Industry 4.0, as well as HR, retail, and travel technologies.