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Q-Summit 2017: What Digital Transformation Means for Startups

Feature Article | April 28, 2017 by Claudio Brecht

At Q-Summit 2017, founders of startups including Amorelie and eDarling gathered in Mannheim, Germany, to share their views on successful entrepreneurship.

How can startups monetize innovations like machine learning, blockchain, and augmented reality? How can the current market situation benefit them?

The motto for the inaugural Q-Summit, organized by students from the University of Mannheim, was “Where Entrepreneurship meets Innovation.” During the three-day event, aspiring startup founders made the most of the opportunity to listen to advice from successful founders, make new contacts, and take part in workshops.

The conference got underway with a pitch battle. In a format resembling the hit TV show “Dragons’ Den,” startup founders presented their ideas to a jury of experts from companies such as PwC and SAP in the hope of winning a prize.

Startups Drive Innovation in Diverse Fields

One of the presenters was Niklas Schäfer, whose startup laptop lockWare has picked up on a very specific problem: how to protect laptops from theft without resorting to costly solutions like steel cables. His idea is both simple and convincing. When activated, the lockWare software continuously monitors the laptop’s power cable connection. If the connection is broken, the software triggers a loud acoustic alarm and sends a WhatsApp message to the device’s owner and/or other designated recipients. Thanks to Niklas’ startup, protecting laptops from thieves no longer needs to be a costly undertaking.

From left to right: Kasi Ravindran, Carsten Linz, prize winner Nils Petersen

Nils Petersen’s pitch centered on augmented reality. His startup ioxp uses artificial intelligence to record production work steps in real time and make them available in virtual reality for voice-controlled monitoring ‒ anytime, anywhere. The program also includes automatic generation of user manuals. This allows companies to document existing processes on the fly and to train new recruits in virtual reality ‒ all on just one platform. It is also an effective means of avoiding the safety risks that arise if workers are distracted or careless. The pitch earned ioxp a prize of two tickets to the SAP Digital Leader Summit, including travel and accommodation, awarded by Kasi Ravindran, practice lead for the SAP Digital Innovation Lab.

Entrepreneurial Spirit: Finding Practical Solutions to Real Problems

Climatic conditions make it hard for Uganda’s population to do more than survive at subsistence level. ReSoil, a project presented by Sebastián Echveverría Botero, aims to change that. It revolves around using the recently rediscovered method of producing terra preta, also known as Amazonian dark earth, to help improve the everyday reality of Ugandan farmers. An added bonus is that the recipe for creating this highly fertile soil from naturally occurring raw materials is environmentally friendly, because it works by binding carbon dioxide in the ground. The jury awarded this project the second prize of €500.

When André Dörrzapf discovered that 300 billion letters are still being mailed every year, he got to wondering how he could make sending a letter as simple as sending an email. The result was startup EmailBrief. All the customer has to do is send a standard email to the startup with the letter they want sent attached as a file. EmailBrief prints the letter out, places it in an envelope, and forwards it for delivery by regular mail. Statutory requirements on the secrecy of letters are met, because the process is fully automated and takes place in secure facilities. Letters destined for the United States are printed and mailed in the United States, thus saving on time and costly postage charges. This idea impressed the jury most and earned its originators the first prize of €1,500 and a ticket to Slush 2017.

Startup Founders Need Clear Vision, Good Partners

Lea-Sophie Cramer from adult startup Amorelie kicked off day two of the conference with a report on her first three years in business. “There were times when I was very frustrated,” she said. “But I had a great team of co-founders around me who were able to give me the emotional support I needed.”

The idea of setting up an adult shop occurred to her on a train journey. “I saw about 15 people reading ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. That was enough to convince me that there was a market for elegant sex toys,” she explained, before going on to stress the importance of believing in the product you’re selling: “We knew we could be better than our competitors because we understood what people wanted.”

The customer perspective is also at the heart of design thinking, and is as fundamental a consideration for startups as it is for large enterprises. At a workshop staged by SAP, participants tried their hand at designing a wallet for a partner. Central to the task was understanding the fictitious customer’s needs and incorporating them into the product design. This exercise reinforced the importance of design thinking by showing just how easy it is to be influenced by your own ideas when you should be focusing on what the customer wants.

Lukas Brosseder of eDarling and Martin Rost of Zalando Lounge have their customers’ requirements firmly in their sights. They joined a group of founders for an evening podium discussion on the prospects for startups in the e-commerce sector. Two messages emerged: namely, that while Amazon’s strong position in the retail sector makes it hard for startups to gain a foothold, there is always room for unique, self-manufactured products to disrupt the market balance. “It’s important to take the first step and be active,” said Brosseder, adding, “in terms of gaining experience, founding a startup is hard to beat.”

Digital Platforms Open Up Unprecedented Benefits

On the third and final day of the conference, Carsten Linz, Business Development Officer and global head of SAP’s Center for Digital Leadership, drew attention once again to the unique situation that future startup founders will enjoy.

Technology like SAP Cloud Platform are opening up a whole new vista of opportunities for startups

“Technologies like SAP Cloud Platform are opening up a whole new vista of opportunities for startups,” he explained. “The balance of power between startups and large corporations is shifting visibly,” he added, stressing the particular significance of platforms.

As one of the first 10 iPod owners, he had been very aware, Linz said, of the advantage Apple had gained for itself by deliberately marketing its product as a platform. And he cited SAP’s cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) as an example of how startups can benefit from platforms.

The elastic SAP Cloud Platform has enabled companies like Munich Re to predict forest fires and, in other scenarios, to use satellite data to issue landslide warnings up to two weeks before disaster strikes. Having this kind of information enables the authorities to draw up detailed evacuation plans, organize emergency accommodation, and take action to avoid casualties in advance.

In anticipation of the next great idea to emerge from the digital age, SAP will continue to actively promote the startup scene through SAP.iO, the SAP Center for Digital Leadership, SAPPHIRE Ventures, and more.

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