AINews & Analysis

How SAP Labs is Fostering India’s Startup Ecosystem

Sindhu Gangadharan, SVP and Managing Director, SAP Labs India, explains how this new collaboration would foster startup ecosystem in India.

SAP Labs

SAP Labs has recently partnered with government think-tank NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) to promote digital literacy, innovation and entrepreneurship in India. As part of the collaboration, SAP will facilitate coaching and mentoring to youth-led startups and in areas like Electronics, Mechatronics, Internet of Things, Digital Skills and Coding, also conduct training of teachers in the next three years. CXOToday speaks to Sindhu Gangadharan, SVP and Managing Director, SAP Labs India, who explains how this new collaboration would foster the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the country.

SAP LabsCXOToday: Could you please give us an overview of the collaboration?

Gangadharan: In 2018 we partnered with NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) to adopt 100 Atal Tinkering Laboratories (ATL) to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education among secondary school children across India. In the last two years, 49 adopted ATLs have imparted STEM education and digital literacy to around 9,700 students. In the next three years, we aim to reach out to an additional 30,000 students through ATLs in the states of North East, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.

This year, in our renewed statement of intent, we will also work towards fostering Incubator and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in the country. Under the guidance of AIM, we will create a platform for the existing 68 Atal Incubation Centers (AICs) across India. This platform will help curate and support the stakeholders’ engagement and empower all incubators to connect better with their networks in an engaging way. Additionally, our teams will conduct Training of Trainers (ToT) under UnBox Tinkering for around 500 teachers in the next three years.

CXOToday: How is SAP with AIM’s guidance offering the mentorship and support to startups?

Gangadharan: At SAP, our objective is to augment incubation centres and provide acceleration support to the youth entrepreneur. We will provide mentoring support to startups, and further facilitate pilots with the youth-led startups. The platform to connect the AICs acts as a CRM tool to the network by integrating and analyzing data to create meaningful insights. Through a competitive methodology, we are selecting a handful of the AICs’ startups for further accelerator support. We will also enable them to explore the possibility of investment for up to 5 startups. Besides which, we will conduct three Idea Challenges in Karnataka to curate and select up to 100 youth-led or social enterprises or ideas in the next three years. The Idea Challenge will support 25 youth entrepreneurs to incubate their ideas, leading to fostering socio-economic development and job creation in Karnataka.

CXOToday: How is technology being leveraged in these programs and the collaboration?

Gangadharan: At SAP, technology and innovation play an essential role to build a digital-ready nation. It’s crucial to expose the youth to the field of science, technology; engineering and mathematics (stem) education. stem education and future digital skills will ensure inclusive and equitable growth in the society. Through the sap NITI-Aayog collaboration, students will be coached on advanced technology topics like electronics, mechatronics, internet of things, digital skills and coding, allowing them hands-on experience on these technologies.

CXOToday: What is the general selection process for startups to be a part of AIC?

Gangadharan: The program has a Startup Selection committee comprising of representatives from CIIE at IIM -Ahmedabad, AIM at NITI Aayog and SAP, which will define the criteria for the selection of the startups. We would look at following criteria for selection of the startups:

  • The startups should be at a Proof of Concept (POC) or Implementation stage.
  • Their focus should be to boost social entrepreneurship and therefore having a defined socio-business model is critical.
  • The preference is given to areas such as agriculture, education, skilling, livelihood promotion as well as healthcare and public health good.
  • The business models of the startups should be such that it can create more net new jobs, once they graduate from our program.

CXOToday: How does it benefit the startup community?

Gangadharan: At SAP, mentoring is part of our key philosophy, and we want to create an ecosystem which gives them a global reach. The main aim of this partnership is to accentuate and promote entrepreneurship and innovation. It will also foster the ecosystem and support innovation-led entrepreneurship. At the Incubation Centers, we will provide, create and enable pathways for innovators, to be supported and mentored to become successful entrepreneurs. We also have a thriving in-house startup accelerator program called Startup Studio, learnings from which we will leverage on to help startups and also facilitate pilots with these youth-led startups.

CXOToday: How effective are such initiatives and programs, and how does it stand apart in the ecosystem?

Gangadharan: Over the last two years, we’ve seen the Tinkering Labs model doing wonders at the grassroots level. This model not only imparts digital skills at a young age but also spurs an innovative spirit and thereby contributes to socio-economic development.

The initiative is bringing in the idea of experiential learning and also introducing topics that are relevant for the future, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and design thinking. It is through such initiatives that our country can build a strong pipeline of the STEM workforce.

Further, this is a kind of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) that will help us achieve enormous scale and ease of replication, with limited financial resources. We at SAP will bring our thought leadership and technical expertise. AIM will support the outreach and penetration to the remotest areas in India through its physical infrastructure and readily available network.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at