How SAP Is Tapping into Startup Innovation

Alexa Gorman, senior vice president and global head of SAP.iO Foundries and Intrapreneurship at SAP, was featured earlier this year by Handelsblatt, the German business newspaper, as one of the “100 female leaders moving Germany forward.”

After years working in business development and strategy roles, Gorman took on joint responsibility for SAP’s startup acceleration programs at the start of May, along with the intrapreneurship team that supports ambitious innovators within the company.

Creating a Win-Win-Win Scenario for Customers, Startups, and SAP

The SAP.iO Foundries program was created as a strategic business unit in 2017. “We saw a need to work more closely with startups in a curated way, as startup innovation was becoming increasingly important for our customers in their digital transformation journeys,” Gorman says. “With SAP.iO Foundries, we are offering them the innovative power of pre-selected startups whose solutions can integrate seamlessly with SAP solutions. And while most of the startups are at an early stage, we do a lot of due diligence to ensure that they will be long-term, viable partners of SAP.”

Headshot of Alexa Gorman
Photo credit: Steven Lüdtke.

Gorman joined the team in 2017 and set up SAP.iO Foundry Berlin, the first of its kind in Europe. Located across 10 locations today, SAP.iO Foundries make up a global network of top-tier startup programs, including accelerators, that can enable startups to build and scale innovative software solutions that deliver value to SAP customers.

Over the past four years, Gorman and her team have been working with over 330 early-stage startups to bring them into the SAP ecosystem and make them the next generation of SAP partners.

“We encourage the startups to use or integrate with SAP technology and support them in doing so,” she explains. “In exchange, the startups expand their ability to scale more quickly through access to our customers and fast-track support to becoming an SAP partner. Thus, we can ensure that our customers have access to the latest and best startup innovation that increases the return on their investments in SAP.”

The SAP.iO Foundries program has received numerous awards and, most recently, took the lead in GlassDollar’s corporate-startup innovation rankings.

Currently, 135 startup solutions are available on SAP Store. “Every week, new startup solutions are being added to SAP Store where they become available to SAP’s sales teams and our customers,” Gorman says.

Mission and Vision for SAP.iO Foundries and Intrapreneurship Program

In her new role, Gorman, who led the SAP.iO Berlin Foundry and subsequently SAP.iO in EMEA until the end of April, will be globally responsible for the combined startup activities of SAP as well as for intrapreneurship within SAP.

“These two units are two sides of the same coin,” she says, “as they both work closely with entrepreneurs and the scaling of ideas or solutions – SAP.iO Foundries with external startups, the intrapreneurship team with startup ideas that originated here with SAP employees. There are actually many synergies between the two teams that we are now in the process of building out and leveraging.”

The intrapreneurship team has currently just started its acceleration program with over 25 internal teams for different parts of SAP, developing their ideas to minimum viable products (MVP) in order to try to secure financing just like an external startup would do with a venture capitalist. Once a team receives an initial investment, they then move into SAP.iO Venture Studio, where they can focus on the development of their startup. “Our approach to intrapreneurship is seen as best-in-class, but we are in the process of looking at how we can take intrapreneurship to the next level.”

Gorman considers scaling what they are doing today to be the major challenge in the near future. “Our unit is moving from being a ‘startup’ within SAP to ‘scale-up,’” she says. “The first few years were all about establishing our brand and curriculum. Now that we have good traction, we have to redefine the processes to be able scale our activities across more geographies.”

Fostering Diverse Talent

Being able to combine a family and a career is a key benefit of working for SAP, according to Gorman: “Lots of companies claim to provide an environment where you can have a family and a career, but SAP is walking the talk – and I want young women to see the possibilities our company offers to them.”

About two-thirds of Gorman’s team at SAP are women. With their offices located around the globe, team members also come from a total of 20 countries. “We like to think of ourselves as the most diverse team in the corporate world that works with startups,” she says. “In our team, we live the diversity focus that we have set for SAP.iO Foundries and deliver outstanding results.”

Increasing the number of historically underrepresented founders in their programs is something SAP.iO Foundries set as a goal in 2019 with the SAP.iO No Boundaries initiative. “We’ve increased that number every year, so by now we come close to 50%,” Gorman says. “We make sure to tap into the networks where these founders are so that we are able to access the kind of innovation that is created by diverse teams, which is proven to be the most successful kind.” This focus was also given to the intrapreneurship program this year, with a lot of emphasis given to role models.

Gorman’s enthusiasm for working with female and diverse founders led her to work with a number of like-minded businesswomen in Germany to create the nonprofit network encourageventures, which is dedicated to increasing diversity in the startup sphere and among investors.

“There were 12 of us in the beginning and it took us six months of weekends and evenings to launch encourageventures,” she says. “We created a platform bringing female Angel investors and mentors together with female-founded companies.” In less than 90 days after the launch, over 260 startups had reached out to the network and over 300 experienced female managers and professors joined ready to open their networks, share experiences, and make investments.”

To Gorman, this aspect of her work is particularly rewarding. “I strongly believe in diversity, in difference of backgrounds and opinions leading to excellent results, and I want to further encourage that. I would call this a major motivator for my work both in and outside of SAP.”