Investors, Innovators, Influencers – Kange Kaneene, Vice President, SAP.iO Foundries North America – SAP


Tell us about the professional journey that took you where you are today. What major lessons did you learn along the way?

In high school before I went to college, I did not know what to study, so my dad suggested computer science. He made that suggestion because in high school I would spend a lot of time at the house talking to my friends on AOL instant messenger and he assumed I had a love for computers. I don’t think he knew I was actually just chatting with friends😊 I had never heard of computer science before, so I was willing to enroll in the introductory computer science class during the first semester freshman year at university. What I liked about the class was it helped me lean into my creativity side. Back then we would literally start with a black screen and then type sophisticated text and generate a computer program. I loved how programming allowed us to create something from nothing. The course also helped me learn how to have a very structured way of thinking. In programming, one needs to consider all details for any computer program to be successful. After surviving the introductory class, I decided to major in computer science. To be honest it was an extremely challenging journey. First of all, my academic advisor literally told me he didn’t think computer science was a good fit for me. I remember being so angry he would make such a statement without even knowing me and that frustration fueled my motivation to graduate with a computer science degree. Each course was harder than the previous and sometimes I would work on computer programs for 12 hours straight. I think that is how I developed a work hard, play hard personality. Many weekends I would literally be at the library all day and then come back in the evening and take shots with my roommates before going out only to wake up in the morning and study some more.

Close to graduation I was interviewing for typical software engineering roles at companies like Microsoft, Merrill Lynch and Cerner. One day I saw a poster for a corporate presentation for Bain and Company serving free catering from Panera Bread. Back then most corporate presentations served pizza, so I was over the moon for an opportunity for Panera and registered for the presentation. Before then I had never heard of consulting. However, the presenter explained opportunities to work on distinct projects for several industries, travel and interact with external clients. I realized a consulting job was a better fit for my personality than the software engineering roles I was applying for. However, after such a challenging college experience with computer science I was not comfortable completely throwing away my computer science knowledge. Therefore, I targeted tech consulting firms and ending up at a supply chain tech consulting firm called Manhattan Associate in Atlanta.

I had never lived in a proper city before and I did not know anyone in Atlanta so I was extremely scared. However, I reached out to my network to introduce me to people they knew in Atlanta, signed up for networking events etc. and before I knew it Atlanta was my home. That was the first time I was truly independent financially and socially and it was an amazing feeling. I had to reinvent myself several more times in my career as I moved around to new places such as New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia and Singapore.

Consulting taught me how to quickly get up to speed as I started new projects and ask the right questions to understand different management styles for each project manager I had to work with.

After a few years I wanted to try a new professional challenge, but I did not know what I wanted to do. I learned about leadership development rotational problems and figured those programs were good ways to quickly learn about different roles within a company to later decide which roles are the most interesting. After more research I understood most leadership development rotational programs recruit from full time MBA programs, so I decided to apply and ended up quitting my job and moved to NYC for school full time.

Deciding to go so business school was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I met the most interesting and diverse group of people I have ever known, I acquired essential business acumen and I went on 7 international trips that helped to broaden my perspective. I also learned to make my goals as specific as possible so that they are easy to achieve. For example, in my application I said I wanted to intern at Citibank between years 1 and 2, do a pro-bono consulting project for Alvin Ailey and join the leadership team for the Association for Hispanic and Black Business students. I am so proud to say I was able to accomplish all those goals.

After business school I joined SAP as part of the leadership development rotational program and I have been at SAP ever since, 10 years! At SAP I have learned the ability to create and maintain meaningful relationships is the key to success. Most of the roles I have had within the company have come about because someone in my network has reached out to me and asked me to join his/her team. This is something I am extremely humbled by and proud of and I absolutely do not take it for granted.

One of my career highlights was working in the office of former SAP Board member Rob Enslin on strategic projects alongside his chief of staff and customer officer. There I was able to understand how real decisions at SAP are made, travel all over the world and have exposure to aspirational leadership styles.

I later worked for one of his direct reports and was responsible for identifying a company to acquire. That was my first real opportunity to meet with external stakeholders in that capacity and I fell in love with meeting with founders who are agile, innovative and passionate. I decided to learn more about how to work with founders on a full-time basis and started to do research about jobs in venture capital. I met with people in the space, attended events in NYC and started to partner with SAP’s internal venture arm by doing things like being a mentor to portfolio companies and joining selection committees. I also started volunteering for a non-profit investment firm as well and scouting for a VC syndicate. With all these experiences I noticed there is such a poor representation of women and people of color founders who received institutional investment and shifted my efforts to focus on providing more access to opportunity.

Most recently I was over the moon when my friend Vanessa Lui asked me to lead SAP.iO Foundries North America (SAP’s startup accelerators). The team has made a commitment to ensure 40% of the founders we work with are underrepresented founders (branded as no boundaries) and we have a no-equity ask program which provides access to SAP APIs, SAP technologies, and opportunities for exposure to SAP customers. I believe this role will empower me to offer access to opportunity by breaking barriers with technology and also support overlooked founders.

What motivates you?

Creating access to opportunity

Who are your role models and why?

My mother because she always put everyone before herself and went out of her way to help others

What does a typical day look like for you?

Usually back to back meetings with my team, startup teams and potential and existing partners

What do you wish founders knew about before meeting you? What about female founders specifically?

That I am sincere and extremely transparent.

What are you most excited about these days?

I am energized by the fresh innovations that are surfacing due to the new devastating reality related to COVID-19

What do you look for in a potential investment?

Strong, credible and coachable management team, product market fit, 1-5 enterprise customers, differentiation

How do you find and curate your deal flow?

Partnerships with VC firms with theses aligned to our cohort themes, attending demo days and pitch competitions, conferences etc.

What are the most effective ways for a founder to connect with you?

The best way to contact me is email: kange.kaneene@sap.com

What are a few of the investments that you are the most proud of, regardless of the company’s success?

Athena Collects, the Turbo Tax of child support documentation preparation.

Anything else you want our readers to know?
• I am on the board of KIPP NYC. KIPP NYC is a network of public charter schools with high minority and low-income populations that matriculate to college at more than double the rate of low-income students nationally and complete college at five times the rate of their peers.
• I love to travel and have been to 42 countries!

Interested in joining the SAP.iO Foundries program? Applications are now open for Fall 2021 in San Francisco and New York and will focus on supporting B2B technology startups across the world with solutions in Energy Innovation, Responsible & Ethical Sourcing, Environmental & Emission Management, Responsible Design & Production, Carbon Tracking, and more!