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On July 15-18 SAP’s Startup Focus team joined forces with SAP Labs Canada at the 2015 International Startup Festival in Montreal. Using this great opportunity to connect with new startup communities in a buzzing region, we had fascinating conversations with entrepreneurs about Big Data, the Internet of Things and much more. We took the chance to show what SAP HANA can do for smaller, growing businesses, changing the perception that our software is exclusively for large, established enterprises.

SAP Canada’s MD Bob Elliott served as one of the judges for the $100K Investment Prize competition, where he sat in excellent company with judges from key venture capital firms. You can read his thoughts on that further down. We also held our very own competition, inviting participants from startup teams to pitch their open data solutions to a panel which included experts from the HANA Startup Forum, myself, and a judge from the City of Montreal.

Another highlight was the talk on ‘Harnessing Goliath’ (startups partnering with enterprises), which featured the CEO of a startup already being powered by HANA, Simon Bain of SearchYourCloud.

While the festival has always been about bringing together dreamers, pioneers, analysts and investors, this year also saw the introduction of a ‘family day’ aimed at inspiring children and teens to embrace the entrepreneurial and scientific spirit. My kids tried their hand at coding, played with gadgets, and took part in free science workshops. There was also a kid’s competition in which startup ideas for apps and gadgets were pitched to Dragon’s Den’s Manjit Minhas.

Our presence at the event was about helping the startup ecosystem see SAP in a new light. With the backing of the HANA Startup Forum, we were showing startups how our software extends to their own big data dreams.

Many of our SAP people were simply awestruck by the coolness of the event, and they felt a sense of pride around seeing themselves as part of the startup scene. I’ll finish by saying a big thank you to everyone from the HANA Startup Forum and to all the volunteers from SAP Montreal who stepped up to assist and showcase their HANA know-how.

If you didn’t make it to the festival this year, we hope to see you in 2016! Click here to find out more about SAP’s global Startup Focus program, and continue reading for the thoughts of other SAP’ers who were there.

Meet SAP’s International Startup Festival dream team

Our MD in Canada, Bob Elliott


What was your overall impression of the festival?

First of all, there was so much energy and passion. When I was judging for the $100K Investment Prize, each of the startup CEOs had only 90 seconds to pitch, so there was huge pressure on them. The other judges were all in the venture capital industry, so it was really interesting to see how well they were able to make 90 second judgments. They focus as much on the entrepreneur as the business concept.

Which startups had the most creative ideas?

The ideas ranged from brilliant, to crazy, to absolutely terrible. On the terrible side, two guys had created a digital marketplace where friends could sell their used items, but only to their invited personal friends. Imagine that business competing against eBay and Amazon. In terms of crazy, one guy had invented an electronic garter belt for exotic dancers to accept payment from debit and credit cards, instead of only cash. Something I found brilliant: one small company had invented wireless in-ear headphones that electronically mold to your ears.

Manju Bansal, Startup Focus

What did you learn about the Canadian startup community?

Like in Vancouver, Waterloo, and other cities in Canada, the presence of world class universities in Montreal contributes to the quality of the startup scene, alongside the number of VC firms, co-working spaces, and involvement from the city itself in the Smart Cities arena.

In my opinion, few cities in the world can industrialize the art of straddling the past and the future, and Montreal does it very well indeed. No wonder technology startups flock here, a natural fit as they are with this evolving mosaic.

What was your highlight?

The Montreal Open Data Challenge (in collaboration with @MTLDATA). We published data sets in advance and Montreal-based startups worked on them before applying for a pitching spot at an exclusive event held at the SAP Labs office in Montreal.

Labs developer Steve Keszthelyi


What were the biggest surprises/highlights for you at the Startup Festival?

A highlight for me came when I met a woman who has started her own healthcare consulting firm focusing on equipment inventory and sanitization. She was looking for an innovative way to monitor equipment and inventory in clinics and hospitals, but didn’t know the best way to move forward. Another gentleman was nearby, listening to us chat, and advised that he is in the IoT business, selling and installing a variety of sensors for maintenance and monitoring of vehicles, machinery, and so on. These two individuals obviously had a way to complement each other’s business, but something in the middle was required. That was where HANA came into play. I explained how it gave them a common platform to accomplish what they were both looking for. I felt this moment perfectly captured the essence of the festival.

What did you learn from attending the festival?

I spoke with startups representing many different industries, and what I found particularly amazing was the number who didn’t know much or anything at all about HANA, and even SAP in some cases. After having casual conversations, talking about what they do and where they want to go, I was able to show them how HANA can apply to a seemingly unlimited amount of scenarios. This gave them a completely fresh perspective on SAP, and taught me a lot in the process.

After being at the festival, what value do you feel SAP can bring to the startup community?

Data is everywhere, and showing people the power of harnessing that data was very rewarding. The startup’s main question was ‘how does this apply to me?’, which allowed us to explain how HANA enables them to act on data in real-time and use predictive analytics. To use retail as an example, this can help them prepare for upcoming peak seasons, ensuring their supply chains are optimized and doing proactive maintenance on equipment and vehicles.

Labs developer Fouad Sadik


What were the biggest surprises/highlights for you at the Startup Festival?

They call us the ‘big guys’! It was great to see us make such a big impression on the many business partners and startup company owners who approached the SAP booth. They had no idea we offer diverse ‘free’ services for startups to bring their unique and interesting products to the market.

What did you learn from attending the festival?

Being one of the ‘big guys’ at the SAP booth, answering questions about SAP products and having conversations with startups was a good feeling and made me realize I can make a real difference. What I learned was that it may be easy to have a new and a unique business idea, but marketing it well is the big challenge.

After being at the festival, what value do you feel SAP can bring to the startup community?

SAP Startup Focus helps eligible startups accelerate the development of their solutions and assists with bringing them to the market faster. Connecting our existing customers with new startups is an opportunity for them all to share, which is a big plus.

Labs developer Jean Corbeil

What were the biggest surprises/highlights for you at the Startup Festival?

I was impressed by the high levels of energy all over. Being able to watch and interact with successful entrepreneurs is very inspiring. I could feel the good vibrations, and I saw startups taking the opportunity to network and show how creative they can be.

What did you learn from attending the festival?

The festival was an eye-opener for me. I was aware that we have been offering SAP in the form of Startup Focus, but I did not know over 2000 startups from 57 countries had already registered and benefit from this great initiative. The pace of innovation is increasing and it’s nice to see all these startups bringing such new ideas and solutions to the table.

After being at the festival, what value do you feel SAP can bring to the startup community?

A lot of value, in fact. With Startup Focus, SAP provides access to technical HANA experts, marketing and sales support. For startups who often struggle with these important areas, this is really important and it is a BIG plus for the startup community!

Labs developer Paul Tormey


What were the biggest surprises/highlights for you at the Startup Festival?

The structure and variety of companies present. The relaxed structure made it easy to meet and speak with entrepreneurs and we received a number of interested visitors to our booth.

What did you learn from attending the festival?

I learned that there is a huge variety of startups in Montreal - many companies doing exciting things which we never hear about. I also learned that while SAP is quite well known as a company, no one is really sure what we do!

After being at the festival, what value do you feel SAP can bring to the startup community?

We can offer business guidance, advice and most importantly we can offer them free software. One startup made a particularly good point: what many of them need is a way to get as much done as possible in a short amount of time with as little cost as possible. They cannot afford SAP at the early stage, but if we give them free licenses in small amounts, and then delay payment until they are becoming successful, we not only support the next big thing, we also get a great new paying customer.