The rest of the 100 (in alphabetical order by company): Ram Jambunathan, SAP
Ram Jambunathan is senior vice-president and managing director of SAP.IO, the Germany-based technology company’s business unit focused on incubating innovation both internal and external and driving new business models.
SAP.IO complements SAP’s commitment to Sapphire, a now-independent corporate venture capital (CVC) unit investing $2.5bn from the German parent in later-stage deals and VC funds.
Jambunathan said: “I have been in this role for the last 18 months, since we established SAP.IO. Prior to this, I led cloud and platform strategy as a member of SAP corporate strategy.
“It was at this time we realised that SAP needed a different way to incubate early-stage innovation, outside of the normal investment and development constructs of a big company.”
The fund has also been investing directly as well as incubating. In February, after his GCV Rising Stars 2018 award, SAP.iO Fund backed US-based data protection compliance software developer BigID’s $14m series A round.
Jambunathan said at the start of the year: “We also realised we needed to drive a build with an application programming interface first approach to establish this ecosystem and accelerate the pace of innovation around SAP application programming interfaces (APIs), data, and technologies, to ensure our customers could fully capture the value from their investments in digitisation.
“Three key things attracted me to CVC, at SAP particularly:
After leaving T-Networks after 5.5 years at the end of 2005, Jambunathan became a McKinsey consultant before joining SAP in mid-2009 and working his way up from a value engineering principal to senior vice-president and now MD of SAP.IO.
Jambunathan said over the past year it had set up the $35m SAP.IO Fund, SAP.IO Foundries and the SAP.IO Venture Studio and added: “It is important to emphasise these successes are all the more notable given that we started from zero a year ago.”
The SAP.IO Fund was established in the beginning of 2017 and has made at least seven investments, including in ClearMetal’s $9m, Niki.ai’s $2m and Paradata’s $10m respective A rounds.
The fund is expected to double its investment pace from Silicon Valley and Israel this year, Jambunathan said in an interview with Mint.
Jambunathan added: “We have been able to invest alongside the best independent VCs because, when the SAP.IO Fund makes an investment, we also get a business unit involved and formally commit to support that investment.
“The consistent feedback that I have received from the ecosystem – independent VCs, founders, and even other CVCs, is that we need to do a better job of delivering on the promise and demonstrating value.
“First, CVCs are unnaturally advantaged in helping startups succeed, because of the corporate parent – so why not take advantage of this, versus trying to position ourselves as independent of the business? Startups and entrepreneurs are attracted to CVCs by that business potential.
“Second, we need to ensure this is not a marketing or branding exercise. This is about creating valuable ecosystems that are in service of creating new and maintaining existing customers for both the startup and the corporate.”
The SAP.IO Foundries is its global network of accelerators for startups running in Tel Aviv, New York City and Berlin and San Francisco.
Jambunathan said its “notable successes include, in SF, we accelerated a cohort of women founded or led software-as-a-service companies this past summer in areas spanning internet of things, human resources, payments and healthcare.
“In fact, we see a big opportunity in investing and supporting women’s entrepreneurship. Not from a social responsibility angle, but it makes fundamental business sense.
“In Berlin, where we just had our demo day and completely changed the game for SAP, and corporate innovation, in Berlin. We accelerated 10 startups around the theme of machine learning-enabled business to business software-as-a-service applications.”
The SAP.IO Venture Studio was set up to enable SAP’s internal innovators – so-called intrapreneurs – to also build products, find customers and change industries.
Jambunathan said: “Its mission is to build the next growth businesses for SAP using a classic, VC-based testable investment model. To do this requires establishing a new function and a commensurate set of processes that are outside the normal portfolio processes and development rhythms that govern mature products at scale and sustaining innovations. We have four Venture Studio incubations, including Atlas, Cygnuz, Apparent Financing and Free2Work Labs
“We believe this model of open incubation – bringing internal and external incubations together under one function (and sometimes under one roof) – is unique and helps drive our success both internally and externally.”
When asked about his challenges, Jambunathan’s time as an entrepreneur and management consultant shines through as he said: “I would reframe these not as challenges, but as high value opportunities.”
“So even if your primary run-time is [peers] AWS, GCP, Azure, or SAP Cloud Platform, we want to ensure that you can deliver value to SAP customers with as little friction as possible.”
For an active member of the university cycling team at University of Michigan during his master’s and PhD in electrical engineering before the technical research and development department at Lucent Technologies, Jambunathan well understands the winning strategy for a rider comes from the team tactics employed.