Interview March 6th, 2023 Interview with Andreas Urban
Samir Kharkan
Samir Kharkan

Mr. Urban, how would you describe the CGI Unicorn Academy?

Unicorn Academy is a non-financial startup partnership program that originated three years ago as a grouping within CGI. Our mission is to find exciting and emerging startups from around the world and match them with our clients. Accordingly, our focus is clearly on startups that already have a ready-made solution up their sleeve and are also able to install this solution for customers.

So the basic idea of the Unicorn Academy is to create a win-win-win situation at the end of the day. That means first a win situation for the startups, second a win situation for CGI itself, and on top a win situation for the third partner in the game, our customers. That means first a win situation for our customers, second a win situation for the startups, and on top a win situation for CGI itself. We select and support our startups in such a way that we can hold pitch events together with them as our customers and offer their solutions.

Contact information:
Andreas Urban | Director Consulting Services
CGI Deutschland B.V. & Co. KG
Heerdter Lohweg 35 | 40549 Düsseldorf | Germany
LinkedIn profile of Andreas Urban
More information about the CGI unicorn academy

As the head of the Unicorn Academy, do you sometimes feel like the founder of a startup?

Within CGI, we as Unicorn Academy naturally also have a kind of startup character. After all, we do something that is unusual for CGI and does not always conform to the actual guidelines. Fortunately, however, we always find ways that make it possible for us to work with startups in this way within the framework of the governance processes of a corporate group. This is also due to the fact that there is a relatively high level of understanding for our actions, as we create real added value for our customers in collaboration with the startups.

What would be an example of such added value?

A simple example would be that we include the startups in our governance systems and thus do all the checks in advance that our customers would otherwise have to do themselves. This advocacy for the startups makes us at Unicorn Academy a kind of meniscus, mediating between two parts of a body and bringing the two together.

So the Unicorn Academy is a kind of accelerator, as they say in the startup world?

With one not-so-small difference. And that is that we are a non-financial program. This means that we do not invest in the startups, at least not money, but "only" a lot of effort, heart, and soul. Accordingly, there is no exclusivity with us and also no closer connection than a so-called partnership agreement, in which it is clarified that we present their solutions together with the startups at our customers. Otherwise, the startups are free to work with us, even in terms of cooperation with other partners.

Does Unicorn Academy actually focus on a specific industry, something like software-as-a-service?

We currently have a total of exactly 35 startups in our program, and you can say that many of them are SaaS startups. But we also have startups from other industries that we are gradually activating. Ultimately, we want to position ourselves as broadly as possible, so we don't want to focus on one sector or one industry. It's more important to us that we find startups that fit our customers and with which we see a certain symbiosis in the future.

We'll come back to the topic of the future of the startup world later. Before that, let me ask you: What symbioses do you see between SCALUE, which is also part of the Unicorn Academy, and your customers?

What we like about SCALUE is its unique all-in-one package. The software offers our customers several features that are essential in this day and age. On the one hand, SCALUE enables our customers to bring significantly greater transparency to their entire purchasing process at the push of a button. Second, SCALUE's purchasing portfolio strategy analysis helps our customers quickly and easily gain a better understanding of their business model. And on top of that, our customers can use the software to increase their purchasing potential to save costs relatively quickly and easily. These are all points that our customers are very interested in right now.

How does the exchange between startups like SCALUE and your customers actually work?

So, you have to think of it like this: CGI is a management consulting firm with a little under 100,000 employees. We have 5500 major customers that can be classified as A-segment, and we have larger sales teams for each of these customers, which we can also address internally as a Unicorn Academy. This means that when we find startups that have an interesting solution, we do both sales and marketing for the startup's CGI internally. Specifically, that means we go out and find CGI salespeople who have customers that might be interested in a startup's particular solution. And then we try to bring the startup, the salesperson, and the customer together at the same table. The advantage of this is that we can fall back on a relatively wide range of existing customers to whom we can present the startups' solutions ad hoc.

Which customers would that be, for example?

Here in Germany, for example, that would be all DAX-listed companies, from automotive to banking to insurance; the entire spectrum. We are not limited to any one industry; we don't have that.

So you are a kind of matchmaker between startups and established companies. What other support does the Unicorn Academy offer?

Basically, we like to support our startups in as many ways as possible. On the one hand, we naturally have a great deal of knowledge about access to our customers, especially to their purchasing departments. On the other hand, we also have many, many IT specialists who are very familiar with many different systems. Accordingly, we also support startups in scaling, growing and further developing their products.

At the same time, we also have various technical boost options. These include technical reviews, but also the possibility to act as an implementation partner for the startups. This is interesting because it allows the startups to continue to focus on their sales while simply leaving the scaling to a large partner like CGI. And last but not least, we also take a close look at the topic of sales preparation with startups. This is basically about startups learning how to describe their product not just as a product, but how to really present it as a solution to a problem.

Is there such an implementation partnership also with SCALUE?

Yes, such a partnership already exists. Many of our customers use SAP or other ERP systems, and so that SCALUE does not have to deal with every system of a customer, they fall back on the expertise of CGI. After all, we usually know our existing customers so well that we are also very, very knowledgeable about their IT infrastructure. And then it's easier for the customer when we help implement software like SCALUE.

Let's now take a look into the future, as we just announced. What is your view of how the startup world will develop in the coming years?

I would simply answer this question from the perspective of our customers. They are already facing major challenges as a result of crises such as the war in Ukraine or inflation. In the next year or two, however, they will certainly face one or two additional challenges, such as the disrupted supply chain or the shortage of raw materials.

This overall situation is already creating a need among our customers for software solutions that can help reduce costs or redistribute resources within the company. However, most established companies are not able to solve such challenges with their own in-house resources, which is why they will increasingly rely on modern solutions from startups like SCALUE in the future. Accordingly, I believe that both the general startup market and the trust in startups' modern solutions will continue to grow.

So SaaS startups in particular are well equipped for the coming years?

Yes, absolutely. I believe we are still a long way from the end of the line in terms of support from digital solutions. Many large companies - especially DAX companies - are still very far behind when it comes to processing and utilizing their data. In addition, the solutions that are currently in massive demand at our company are increasingly going in the direction of the supply chain, process automation, or cost reduction. These are the areas in which we are currently looking for capable startups with good and, above all, ready-to-use software.

This is the case with SCALUE. Here, with the help of the software, our customers simply get much better transparency about the movement and environment data of their purchasing department, which in the short or long term leads to leaner processes and thus also to cost savings. If a SaaS company offers such clear benefits, it is well-positioned for the years to come.

So you are predicting a successful 2023 for SCALUE?

Absolutely. SCALUE has exactly the right product for the future because it is precisely this data compilation - or more precisely, the consolidation and disclosure of data - that will become increasingly interesting and important for many medium-sized and large companies in the future. Accordingly, I would also say that SCALUE is one of the top five startups that we will focus on this year.

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Then, finally, one more question: What kind of support would you like to see from politicians or larger companies in the future in order to further advance Germany as a startup location?

Over the past three years, one of our bigger challenges has been making sure that everyone at CGI understands the support that Unicorn Academy can provide, even in-house. That was a huge struggle, and I imagine that struggle is infinitely greater when a startup is just going directly to a large company. So what I would like to see are marketplaces that function in a similar way to the Unicorn Academy; where people also look around for new solutions that don't come directly from the established players in the market.

I would also like people with good ideas not to have to deal with bureaucracy or financing problems, but to be able to focus entirely on their product. Because I'm absolutely convinced that many people in Germany want to develop solutions that no one else currently has at their fingertips. And if we could create a larger breeding ground for startups to develop further and focus on the actual core topic of their product, that would be great.

All right, then the only thing missing at this point is your call to all startups out there, right?

Gladly. So, we at Unicorn Academy would encourage all startups looking to take the next step into the corporate world to simply get in touch with us. No matter what product you have, where you come from, or what you do, just get in touch with us, we're looking forward to meeting you.

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