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Inspiring Innovators: Chris Motley Founder & CEO Mentor Spaces, On remembering “Who do you do this for?”

At SAP.iO, we work with innovative people and new technologies that positively impact our world every day, and we think it’s time to share their stories with you! In our series, “Inspiring Innovators,” we get to hear how founders, CEOs, and presidents of cutting-edge startup technologies overcame, thrived, and pursued their goals. SAP.iO’s Alexa Gorman sat down to discuss the road to success and lessons learned with some of our most inspiring startup founders.

Meet Chris

Chris Motley grew up on the South Side of Chicago and was fortunate to be a part of organizations that helped put him on a path to access educational opportunities. That access led to graduation from Columbia University with a B.A. in History, and the Kellogg School of Management, with an MBA in Entrepreneurship. Chris founded a global textile manufacturing business where he spent six years leading its expansion into Ghana, Africa, and building its apparel division.

When we asked Chris about what he wanted to be when he grew up, he smiled and listed all the things he thought he might be, ranging from a basketball player to a judge. The takeaway was that Chris wanted to be the things he was exposed to as a child. What he saw, the people he met, and his connections contributed to his journey and gave him a unique way of looking at the world. He would come to learn how important all this was, and it would guide his future focus and desire to give back.

Previously, Chris spent four years at Goldman Sachs as a Commodities and Interest Rate product trader. Upon reflection on his journey, he thought about what people do when they are not exposed or have access to the same opportunities he was afforded. How do you reach your potential if you are not exposed to opportunities? How does one find support, mentors, and resources to learn about what could be?

When Chris asked these questions, he realized there was a need to provide these resources on a much larger scale. After learning a lot on Wall Street and building a company in Ghana, now was the time to launch Mentor Spaces to address the need in the marketplace for mentorship of underrepresented populations. Mentor Spaces is a venture-backed, community-driven mentorship platform designed to help companies scale DEI efforts while advancing the careers of underrepresented talent. The platform facilitates career conversations between employees and prospective candidates to streamline diverse talent acquisition and retention. This technology allows you to have conversations with people who can help you get where you want to go.

“What I found as we did a tremendous amount of research, in addition to my personal story, was that part of the issue is a lack of confidence among underrepresented populations, and part of that lack of confidence is driven by simply not knowing people and vetted resources that would help. We concluded that mentorship is a good way to build confidence and expand one’s network, and what’s unique about our approach is that we look at mentorship as a strategy that helps our customers accomplish their goals. Most companies have shifted to focus on a strategy around talent attraction, advancement, and retention.”

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How SAP Is Tapping into Startup Innovation

Alexa Gorman, senior vice president and global head of SAP.iO Foundries and Intrapreneurship at SAP, was featured earlier this year by Handelsblatt, the German business newspaper, as one of the “100 female leaders moving Germany forward.”

After years working in business development and strategy roles, Gorman took on joint responsibility for SAP’s startup acceleration programs at the start of May, along with the intrapreneurship team that supports ambitious innovators within the company.

Creating a Win-Win-Win Scenario for Customers, Startups, and SAP

The SAP.iO Foundries program was created as a strategic business unit in 2017. “We saw a need to work more closely with startups in a curated way, as startup innovation was becoming increasingly important for our customers in their digital transformation journeys,” Gorman says. “With SAP.iO Foundries, we are offering them the innovative power of pre-selected startups whose solutions can integrate seamlessly with SAP solutions. And while most of the startups are at an early stage, we do a lot of due diligence to ensure that they will be long-term, viable partners of SAP.”

Photo credit: Steven Lüdtke.

Gorman joined the team in 2017 and set up SAP.iO Foundry Berlin, the first of its kind in Europe. Located across 10 locations today, SAP.iO Foundries make up a global network of top-tier startup programs, including accelerators, that can enable startups to build and scale innovative software solutions that deliver value to SAP customers.

Over the past four years, Gorman and her team have been working with over 330 early-stage startups to bring them into the SAP ecosystem and make them the next generation of SAP partners.

“We encourage the startups to use or integrate with SAP technology and support them in doing so,” she explains. “In exchange, the startups expand their ability to scale more quickly through access to our customers and fast-track support to becoming an SAP partner. Thus, we can ensure that our customers have access to the latest and best startup innovation that increases the return on their investments in SAP.”

The SAP.iO Foundries program has received numerous awards and, most recently, took the lead in GlassDollar’s corporate-startup innovation rankings.

Currently, 135 startup solutions are available on SAP Store. “Every week, new startup solutions are being added to SAP Store where they become available to SAP’s sales teams and our customers,” Gorman says.

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Vanessa Liu of SAP.iO Shares Global Wisdom

Vanessa Liu is a builder. She is a builder of businesses, concepts, networks and connections.

Vanessa presently leads SAP.iO Foundries in North America, which are SAP’s accelerators for B2B enterprise startups. She has earned degrees in neuroscience and law.

Early in her career, Vanessa worked in the business consulting world with McKinsey Company, which took her around the world to posts in Amsterdam, London and New York, were she presently resides. Along her dynamic career path, Vanessa developed a keen interest in media, and she has launched and invested in a number of successful media ventures, including Inside Hook and Fevo.

Vanessa is a champion for social justice and a tireless advocate for under-represented business start-ups, especially those led by women or diverse founders. With Vanessa’s diverse and fascinating background, it is no wonder she is one of the wisest people I know.

Settle in. Over the next nine minutes, you’ll discover what unique bit of wisdom Vanessa has chosen to share.

Listen Here…


Learn how to bring a new product or service to market in the age of Coronavirus with our guest today, Vanessa Liu. Vanessa graduated from both Harvard University and Harvard Law before going on to help launch multiple media and telecom startups as a consultant at McKinsey & Company. She then went on two four two more startups herself before taking on her current role running’s Foundries program (, a no-equity accelerator for startups with a current or planned integration with SAP, 40% or more of which have female or under-represented founders.

In this episode, we cover how still-growing organizations should pivot their product, service, and/or messaging to focus on potential clients’ pain-points, and not on simply how great their product is.