How to Create a Win – Win – Win Relationship

Mind the Bridge and the International Chamber of Commerce recently awarded SAP as a TOP 25 Corporate Startup Stars last December. Indeed, with a hundred thousand employees, the B2B SaaS technology giant outperforms the majority of Fortune 500 corporations on the implementation of their Open Innovation programs and creates win-win-win relationships with startups, SAP’s clients and of course SAP.

In this Mind the Chat, we had the joy to sit down with Alexa Gorman, SVP and head of SAP.iO foundries in EMEA. Alexa joined SAP in 1999 in the retail space and led various teams and initiatives from marketing to strategy in both New York and Paris before finally joining in Berlin, in 2017.

During the conversation, we covered the multiple areas of activities that SAP undertakes in the world of startups, namely SAP.iO, Sapphire Ventures, SAP’s Intrapreneurship program – SAP.iO Venture Studio, and the University Alliances. We took a deep dive into the structure of the SAP.iO, its Foundries, and the growing number of SAP’s innovation outposts around the world.


SAP.iO is part of the New Ventures and Technology group that reports directly to the CTO office. The role of SAP.iO is to manage both startup-driven innovation and acceleration, as well as employee-driven innovation and acceleration.

Intrapreneurship initiatives

The intrapreneurship team makes sure employees (across the board roles) have the option to come up with ideas and build solutions around them. This typically leads to an investment committee that validates and decides whether to invest or not. If the committee opts to invest, the employees will join SAP.iO Venture Studio with the freedom to develop the startup within the mother company; the IPs stay within SAP. The intrapreneurship funnel in numbers is:

  • 20k employees engage yearly in the program,
  • 100 of them create ideas,
  • 20 ideas convert to companies,
  • A subset of this 20 gets in the Venture Studio.

Foundries VS Fund

Foundries, the First Mile Tool

The SAP.iO Foundries are SAP’s global network of equity-free startup accelerators that help promising startups integrate with SAP solutions. The Foundries act more as an intense sprint phase to support startups to run their first mile. SAP.iO touch base with them every quarter. 

SAP.iO runs 2 programs per year and per foundry, on specific vertical industries to create more specialized work and alignment between SAP mentors, startups, and clients. Since their inception, they have established a large network, with nine foundries all over the globe (two in the US in San Francisco and New York, three in Asia in Singapore, Tokyo, and Bangalore, four in Europe in Berlin, Munich, Paris, and one in the Middle East in Tel Aviv).

A Fund to Push Startups to SAP’s Clients

With the Fund, it is a longer process. The goal here is to push the startup solutions to SAP’s customers. SAP’s business developers coordinate this effort by organizing bi-weekly calls. A smaller number of startups is involved and the relationship between the startups and SAP is closer. 

Other Tools to Get External Innovation

On the external side and on top of SAP.iO’s activities, SAP engages both with young students to foster entrepreneurial spirits through University Alliances and with late-stage companies through Sapphire Venture, a late-stage fund.

“The real goal of our startup activities is to build an open innovation ecosystem and create a win-win-win situation. A win for the customers. A win for SAP. A win for the startups.”


3:30 SAP as a global leader in Open Innovation & its ecosystem
5:10 Growing Intrapreneurship & the New Ventures team
9:18 Mature internal projects feed the SAP Venture Studio: processes & partners
14:05 Growing entrepreneurship ground up with University Alliances
14:55 SAP Sapphire Ventures: growth fund for late-stage companies
15:22 SAP.iO Deep Dive: foundries & locations (or virtual)
19:45 SAP.iO wants startup “look and feel”
23:40 Which startups should target SAP.iO?
26:19 Outside world meets the inside work (we have a platform!)
29:28 Investments terms @ SAP.iO
30:51 How do you measure your success at SAP.iO?
32:50 Underrepresented entrepreneurs: no-boundaries pledge (200 by 2023)
34:30 What’s the future of startup accelerators?

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Author: Federico Gobbi

Federico is General Manager at the Mind the Bridge Innovation Center as well as Director of the Startup Programs at Mind the Bridge. He has previously contributed to a startup exit and advised hundreds of startups through Mind the Bridge programs, 500startups, Alchemist Accelerator and other organizations. He is passionate about sustainability/circular economy. Connect with Federico.