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An exclusive interview with Marita Mitschein


SAP’s unique startup focus program is a perfect blend of technological innovation and practical training, equipping entrepreneurs with all the know-how they need to excel in today’s competitive landscape. At the program’s MENA launch, SME Advisor got talking to the lady at the forefront of this initiative – Marita Mitschein. Here are key excerpts…

Marita Mitschein

Tell us more about the SAP Startup Focus Program. What does this initiative hope to achieve, and what was the idea behind it?

The SAP Startup Focus Program was launched in the Middle East and North Africa to support technology entrepreneurs, whose product ideas are based on Big Data, predictive or real-time analytics solution.

Startup Focus delivers global best practices to support the region’s startup community in growing their innovative business plans, helping them to accelerate the development of their solutions and assisting them with the go to market.

Ever since the global launch of the Startup Focus Program in 2012, SAP and participating start-ups have enjoyed great success. SAP has engaged over 2,000 start-ups across 57 countries and 22 industries. To date, 175 start-ups have gone to market and are actively working in partnership with SAP customers.

By launching the program in MENA, SAP Training and Development Institute (SAP TDI) aims to bring the start-up community in the region together and provide support for promising start-ups to build their application on SAP HANA, one of the world’s fastest growing in memory platforms.

Describe who is eligible for the program, the benefits an enrolled start-up enjoys, how it works, and if they still receive SAP support once graduating from the program.

Start-ups with ideas pertaining to Big data, predictive or real analytics are best suited for this program. These ideas would make the best use of SAP HANA’s power of in memory computing in real time.

We have seen companies, focusing on various industries, joining the Startup Focus Program in different phases of their growth journey, as there is no set entry point for the program. If the companies are looking for a scalable, high performance platform then SAP HANA cloud platform can be a key to accelerate their success.

Start-ups accepted into the program will benefit from technology support in developing their promising solution based on SAP HANA cloud platform as well as assistance in the go-to-market of their production-ready solution.

Based on your extensive experience of working with start-ups as part of this Program, what are some key challenges and opportunities they are currently facing when it comes to Big Data? In terms of the regional landscape, how do you see Big Data shaping up?

As the Internet of Things era advances, the Middle East and North Africa is facing rapid acceleration in digital transformation and the Networked Economy. Worldwide, there will be a global “value at stake” of USD 14.4 trillion, according to a report by SAP and Stephenson Strategies.

To capture this opportunity, organisations across the region will need innovative solutions to analyse data from connected sensors, mobile devices, and objects. The Middle East hosts high potential, with Internet of Things hardware and services revenue reaching USD 2 billion in 2015, according to one firm.

The Startup Focus Program anticipates the growing demand for start-ups using Big and Smart Data, predictive analytics, and offering real-time data decision solutions. Worldwide, the most common areas for Startup Focus participants are visualisation, business intelligence, market insight (25 per cent), social media, collaboration, gaming (17 per cent), predictive analytics and complex analytics (13 per cent), and IoT/sensor (10 per cent).

What is next for the SAP Startup Focus Program and how do you look to take it further?

This is the first Startup Focus event in the MENA region, and we are hoping for double-digits in the number of start-ups that submit a business case for validation by the Startup Focus Program.

We are in active discussions with regional incubators and venture capitalist funders, and the Middle East start-up scene is definitely growing, especially in the UAE. Compared to five years ago, the region is increasingly start-up-friendly, as it has become much easier to incorporate and access capital. We are positive to play a key role in shaping up the future entrepreneurs in this region.

With more than 100 million young people set to enter the MENA labour market by 2020, the region needs to invest in education to help youth find and create work places, and develop skills and knowledge needed in the Digital Economy. Start-up Focus is a key initiative by the SAP Training and Development Institute, which aims to help talented young people find jobs or establish their own companies.

The Middle East and North Africa is home to some of the world’s most tech-savvy minds, and within the next five years, we are convinced the next disruptive start-up will come from the Middle East and North Africa.


Rushika Bhatia

Rushika Bhatia is one of the region’s leading commentators on business and current affairs issues. She is the Editor of SME Advisor magazine - the flagship title of CPI Business. She is passionate about infographics – with special emphasis on data, research and statistics. Rushika has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, USA and is also CIMA qualified.