Manju Bansal is the Vice President and Global Program Head for SAP Startup Focus. We had the privilege of sitting down with him to learn more.


Please tell us more about the SAP Startup Focus Program?

Every day you hear about young startups that are disrupting the status quo and upending entire industries in the process. In a globalized, hyper-competitive world, the old rules don’t seem to apply anymore and “innovate or lose” has become the norm, even for established enterprises with dominant market presence. However, innovation is a tricky business and not one that is easy to deliver on. 

SAP Startup Focus is an accelerator program that works with startups in the Big Data, predictive and real-time analytics space (Machine learning, AI, data security, IoT, mobile, AR/VR) space, to develop new applications on SAP technology and accelerate market traction.

The Startup Focus program currently encompasses almost 6,000 startups in 25 industries across 60+ countries, with more than 280 validated solutions available for SAP customers.


What stage of startups do you work with?

In theory it doesn’t matter, but in practice the vast majority of those that come to our program are early stage startups. They have usually raised a seed or angel round, haven’t quite raised a professional series A, have a small team, but working full time on the startup.


What is in it for the startups that participate in Startup Focus?

It is a free program that does not cost anything (either in cash, or equity) and it provide a slew of technical & business resources to help startups.  Some of the benefit of the program include:

  • The participating startups have access to SAP software for free, whether in the cloud or on premise
  • Technical enablement, training and support, including direct 1:1 contact with SAP technical experts & solution architects to help expedite product development
  • Business mentoring, including help with refining business models, developing industry use cases, pricing & licensing, positioning & messaging, content development etc
  • Go-to-market support and sales alignment to maximize commercialization opportunities
  • All certified startups are given the opportunity to list their solutions on the SAP App Center, which is SAP’s cloud marketplace
  • We provide introductions to potential investors, including, Sapphire Ventures and other external entities


What have you learnt from the program?

The program has been running and growing for 5+ years now, since April 2012, which by itself is a testimony to its success. In my opinion, we have learned several things along the way:

  • Innovation is not a department. Innovation comes down to a holistic approach that we use to work closely with other partners/ stakeholders in the mix to deliver solutions our customers are looking for. For this reason, we work with all departments within SAP that touch this topic of innovation, including startup incubators, Intrapreneurship programs, co-working spaces, developer relations, university alliances etc…
  • Smart people with fantastic solutions exist in all places of the world. It is important to involve local stakeholders with local knowledge that can help identify the best solutions that can solve specific customer problems.
  • We cannot be all things to everybody, so we have to learn to say no. We just don’t have the resources to support everyone and we have to figure out how to best optimize our limited resources to maximize program output globally.


Why do you think companies were successful with your program?

The most successful have 3 things in common:

  1. They are built by technical founders, doing the development themselves. They have deep domain knowledge of the industry they are targeting and are intimately involved in the software development process.
  2. The vast majority of our successful startups have been founded by people in their 40s and beyond. The enterprise space requires more maturity and gravitas, as well as patience and commitment, so their real-world experience works in their favor.
  3. Finally, smart founders know how to leverage the collective power of their networks i.e. knowing when to ask for help and not being afraid to change direction if needed.


Any other messages you want to share?

A few years ago, young startup founders tended to think it was a bad idea to work with a large company either because they were afraid their idea would be stolen or that it will be too difficult to work with a larger entity. Today, both startups and large corporations are responding positively to the idea of open innovation and creating truly compelling innovation in the process.

As a large corporation, we understand our limitations and realize what we can and cannot do. We are open to helping startups solve their problems, show them how to use our technology. We never look at their code or anything. That is in the contract: your IP is your IP, you own it, you control it. We do not touch it.

We want to work collaboratively to solve solutions for our customers, because when my customer wins, you as a startup win. We help our startups navigate the landscape of our customers, internal SAP colleagues, and how to commercially and successfully get the job done.