Running a startup inside a large corporation requires passion and resilience, especially in uncertain times. Two teams share their experiences of their first few weeks as intrapreneurs at SAP.
The current pandemic has had a significant impact on the worldwide economy, as well as people’s professional and personal lives. Business operations across the globe have changed rapidly over the last six weeks, with small companies and startups in particular feeling the pressure to pass this stress test.
Late last year, before the discovery of COVID-19, the outlook for newly founded ventures and startups was quite different. At that time, two employee-created startups within SAP secured funding and joined the accelerator program within the company’s New Ventures and Technologies team.
“I had business meetings in Germany, the U.S., the UK, Singapore, and Indonesia that all had to be canceled,” GreenToken Co-Founder James Veale says. He adds that while the meetings were replaced with video calls, software deployment and activities like troubleshooting or training were challenging to accomplish without being on-site with customers.
Despite the new challenges, both teams still appreciate the support they have had from SAP.iO Venture Studio, a production innovation program that invests in small entrepreneurial SAP teams to build and launch products. The intrapreneurship program represents one of the company’s efforts to identify future opportunities and funding ideas for employee-led innovation. It provides a one-stop shop for all the information and tools employees need, such as access to an exclusive network of advisors, hands-on education, and a world-class accelerator to help build their own business inside SAP.
Here, both founding teams reflect on their first 100 days as intrapreneurs at SAP and share their experiences and challenges, as well as key takeaways.
Creating a New Venture
Dor Shany and Rooly Eliezerov are the co-founders of OwnID by SAP, a web application that lets users create one single digital identity that can be used for login across websites and apps. Their goal is to safeguard personal data on various platforms. Both have experience as founders, as they bring deep expertise from their identity management platform, Gigya, which SAP acquired in 2017.
Shany and Eliezerov applied for support from the internal accelerator program as opposed to seeking external funding.
“SAP’s added value is a big plus for us,” Shany explains. “Other companies already have a lot of trust with SAP and we can benefit from that when approaching new customers.” But the decision to apply was also a personal one. “We both shine in a startup environment, and that’s what New Ventures and Technologies offers,” Eliezerov adds.
As the company’s flagship social intrapreneurship initiative, SAP One Billion Lives drives social innovation and gives employees the permission, time, technology, and mentorship to turn their passion for making a difference into sustainable ventures. With a social mission at the core of business, the program aspires to improve the lives of 1 billion people.
“We entered SAP One Billion Lives just to get some funding to finish our project and we ended up being given the opportunity to start a new business unit within SAP,” Veale says, adding that he and Jain had to leave their existing roles to completely focus on the venture. “Success or failure is down to us.”
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
Before securing funding, the four founders took part in a three-week workshop to receive feedback from mentors and fellow intrapreneurs. Jain notes that every single aspect of their business plan was scrutinized and challenged by workshop peers.
Shany says such deep inspection and review enabled the four co-founders to view their respective ventures from multiple perspectives. “Our key takeaway was that it’s not about having other people solve our problems, but it’s about listening to others and then we learn how we can improve,” he says.
Coming from a business development background, Veale and Jain knew that their professional experiences were unique among their peers within New Ventures and Technologies, who typically have more technical backgrounds. These differences, however, have been complementary to both the co-founders and the teams they work with, because they are able to approach problems and issues with a different view and vice versa – even if it meant being challenged and challenging others openly.
“We didn’t hold back in challenging the team,” Veale says, emphasizing that it was a valuable learning experience for both sides. “Innovation is about passion and change, and if we can’t change our process then we can’t innovate. New Ventures and Technologies understood this and gave us the flexibility and headroom we needed.”
A Glimpse into the Future
In their first 100 days as intrapreneurs at SAP, the lives and roles of these four co-founders have fundamentally changed. They are working with existing SAP customers, including blue chip companies and are looking forward to expanding their portfolios and scaling their businesses. But they are also acutely aware that they are not just dealing with the challenges of a typical startup. The pandemic has presented challenges for startups, some of which have never before been seen.
Nevertheless, they remain optimistic. “We had a slower start than we had hoped for, but we have adapted, like bringing face-to-face meetings to video, and we are now moving and gathering pace,” Veale says.
When asked if the founders recommended taking the leap and becoming an intrapreneur, Jain answers with an emphatic yes: “This transition from being an employee in a large organization to driving something on your own is a challenge and a change of mind – but it is definitely worth it.”