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SAP Emerging Technologies Meets Startup Weekend

photo1.JPGQuestion:  So what happens when you get over 100 people in a room to listen to over 40 pitches on a Friday night? 

Answer:  12 start-ups by Sunday evening. 

Proof:  SAP was awesome enough to sponsor Kitchener-Waterloo’s first ever Kauffman Startup Weekend hosted by Communitech.  The audience was varied — some were students, some came from start-ups, and some were even full-time employees at larger companies.  All came with the common purpose of trying on start-up shoes for the weekend.  I was a little bit wary of what level of participation to expect for this event considering (1) who wants to give up their weekend to work like a dog after already putting in a long week’s work AND (2) pay for the privilege of doing so (a small admission fee was charged to participate)?.  So I was really blown away when there were over 100 people that showed up on Friday night to do just that! 

To begin the night, everyone was given the opportunity to pitch a business idea.  Approximately 44 people pitched (wow!).  The ones that were successful in getting their ideas across were obviously memorable (people had to recall their idea out of the other 43) and clearly articulated.  After everyone voted on the ideas that were liked best, teams were organically formed. Some teams needed business folks, others developers and designers.  Some ideas died in this stage due to lack of resource support, just like in the real world. Finally there were 12 start-ups left to work through the weekend to come up with a viable business idea that was confirmed by customers and executed with a minimal viable product (MVP).  People within SAP should be quite familiar with this approach – as we execute a similar one within our Design Thinking methodology (essentially finding innovations at the intersection of desirability, viability, and feasibility characteristics). 

So what did we do as SAP throughout this weekend?  Believe it or not, we were not there to steal their ideas as someone slyly suggested to me. We were actually there to:

  1. Provide mentorship from our local Emerging Technologies multi-disciplinary team of business executives and technology architects.
  2. Empathize with the start-up community to better understand where we can help in addition to figuring out how we can emulate this awesome culture within our own company.
  3. Raise awareness about SAP within the start-up community and show off some of our cool platform technologies like HANA and SQL Anywhere that start-ups can develop on today.  (I can at least testify that the start-ups I addressed won’t be calling us “sap” as in the maple variety, but rather S-A-P moving forward).

photo 3.JPGSo what did I learn from being a sponsor, a mentor, and a general spectator? 

  • Great technical POCs die quickly without a good pitchman that can clearly articulate what the product is (a lot harder with complex technology offerings than you would think), why customers desire it, and how as a company you will make money from that customer desire. 
  • Having a clear execution plan (with some flexibility) can help focus scarce resources and channel energy in a limited time frame.  Also using time as a constraint can get good enough results for an initial business launch. Iterations can and will come later with customers.     
  • The “build it and they will come” user acquisition strategy for mobile apps is still not dead (maybe it should be?)
  • After watching several pitches in a row, they sadly start to look the same.  Any way to differentiate within the pack needs to be employed (someone tried wearing a cowboy hat for example for their pitch – I still remember that guy, although he claimed to not usually wear cowboy hats).
  • It’s not enough to be the first with the idea, you also have to have a plan as to why no one else can quickly emulate your idea (and apparently the answer is not ‘we are in the process of filing patents ’)

So like in real life there are winners and losers, and while only 3 start-ups took home prizes at the end of Sunday, I think a lot more was gained from everyone who participated. 

PS.  You can read all 12 start-up ideas here.  The top 3 (from 1st to 3rd) were HomeFed, Fides, and Zero Wait Thirty.

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