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As interest in B2B tech surges, Oracle-affiliated startups seek an edge on competitors

Program aims to equip fledgling companies with sales tools and customer contacts in addition to cloud credits.

By Aaron Ricadela | February 2021


As interest in B2B tech surges, Oracle-affiliated startups seek an edge on competitors

It turns out that kitting out a laptop and webcam in the spare bedroom isn’t always the best means of collaboration—especially at big companies, where “you tend to stay in your circle,” says Dirk Hockerts, a vice president at Swiss-German startup Starmind. “You’re alone at home and can’t have a coffee and talk a situation through.”

Starmind’s AI-based software sifts through electronic conversations, job descriptions, and meeting records to connect workers with experts to get questions answered or speed onboarding. Customers include Nestle, Novartis, Bayer, and Daimler. The software ignores confidential files, and “the algorithm is also able to forget,” Hockerts says. “You’re not an expert forever.”

B2B tech startups, such as Starmind, have emerged as a bright spot for investors during the pandemic. While global lockdowns battered the retail, airline, energy, and hospitality sectors, they’ve lifted tech companies that support remote working and cybersecurity, as well as those that sell a range of cloud-based services. Cybersecurity and cloud computing remain CIOs’ top two priorities for 2021, according to a January survey by Credit Suisse.

No ‘big tanker’

Especially successful are those startups that partner with large tech companies to get their businesses off the ground. Starmind, just one of thousands of companies in the Oracle for Startups program, has discussed potential customer accounts with the tech giant and got certified to run on its cloud infrastructure in just two months—faster than competing startup programs allowed. “What was impressive about Oracle was the speed,” Hockerts says. “I previously thought of them as a big tanker.”

Getting young tech companies running on their cloud infrastructures is important for Oracle and its competitors as they look to build long-term relationships with these growing businesses. Oracle is also starting to work more closely with venture capitalists in Austin, Texas, and the San Francisco Bay Area to help connect startups in its program with additional funding.

Venture-backed companies in the United States raised a record high of nearly US$130 billion last year, up 14% from the previous year, according to the most recent PricewaterhouseCoopers and CB Insights MoneyTree report. Startups in biotech, accounting, financial management, IT security, and HR saw the biggest increases in fourth-quarter investment rounds.

Proceeds from US IPOs also soared last year, fueled by tech companies that cater to businesses as well as issues by the special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). US startups—including B2B tech companies Palantir, Sumo Logic, Asana, and JFrog—raised more than US$167 billion in 454 IPOs last year, eclipsing a record set in 1999.

Europe’s tech industry was on track for about €$41 billion in venture capital investment last year, up about €$500 million from 2019, according to research from European venture capital firm Atomico. The combined market caps of the five biggest European tech companies that went public in 2020 are still less than a third of those in the US, though startups are now raising in a quarter what used to be raised in a year, Atomico reported.

Knowledge graph

Five years ago, CogniCor CEO Sindhu Joseph moved her company, whose cloud software helps cut money managers’ client paperwork, to the San Francisco Bay Area from Barcelona after completing her Ph.D. thesis in AI there. In 2018, she established the company in its present form in California to help wealth managers at banks and insurers focus on creating more value for clients, rather than spending as much as 60% of their time on administrative tasks. Those tasks include bringing clients onboard, complying with regulations, and creating tickets for securities trades. “We can take much of this away,” Joseph says.

CogniCor, which is raising its Series A financing round, integrates its software with content management systems from Oracle and others to extract relevant information from bank documents, saving wealth managers from sifting through lengthy files when they call up a search. Its AI “knowledge graph” can also fill in forms by integrating with sales and administrative systems, saving financial advisers from having to fill them out by hand or call tech support when they get stuck, Joseph says.

While the company’s software runs on multiple cloud platforms, CogniCor has used Oracle Cloud Infrastructure in a successful pilot project at City National Bank in Los Angeles. CogniCor won a deal with a large wealth manager in part by integrating its product with Oracle Knowledge Management content management system. “We’re looking to move more and more to Oracle,” Joseph says.

 

“There’s too much friction in some of these programs. If you’re really small and selling to a big company, there’s a long process… before a proof of concept or paid pilot, and another several months of legal and technology due diligence. We help prepare companies for B2B sales.”

JD Weinstein, Oracle for Startups

Another Oracle for Startups partner, Turkey’s Reengen, has helped the likes of Shell, Zara, Banana Republic, Pepsico, IKEA, and Vodafone cut energy usage by combing data from lights, heating and air conditioning systems, meters, and electric vehicle charging stations. Its industrial internet platform and machine learning software shows facilities managers where wrong settings or outdated systems are burning excess energy and suggests fixes on the spot.

Reengen CEO Sahin Caglayan notes that there’s widespread usage of Oracle products in the energy and utilities sectors, so running its system on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure helps the company expand its reach. Reengen is raising a Series A round of investment, moving its headquarters from Istanbul to London, and looking to expand in Europe, the Middle East, and South America.

Too much friction

Oracle differentiates its startup program from those of competitors by giving participants access to its large-account sales reps, brokering meetings with customers, and providing management and other forms of training and mentorship. It also introduces participants to industry analysts to potentially get cited in their research. “That becomes their sales collateral,” says JD Weinstein, who leads the VC practice at Oracle for Startups.

“There’s too much friction in some of these programs,” Weinstein says. “If you’re really small and selling to a big company, there’s a long process and lots of steps before a proof of concept or paid pilot, and another several months of legal and technology due diligence. We help prepare companies for B2B sales.”

Startups in Oracle’s program get a 70% discount on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and Oracle Autonomous Database for the two years they’re in the program. Oracle is particularly interested in startups whose technology supports telemedicine, working from home, ecommerce, combating climate change and other societal problems, and developing alternative food sources.

For example, Botany AI in Austin, Texas, grows animal protein for food in a lab without needing to raise livestock. Senseye analyzes computer users’ eye movements to tell if they’re intoxicated or tired. Other startups in the program are involved in building modular hospitals and in electrocardiogram data analysis.

Unlike other big tech companies’ programs for startups, Oracle for Startups doesn’t funnel participants’ ideas to its corporate parent. “When you have joint meetings with customers, you have to build trust,” Starmind’s Hockerts says. “That’s naturally easier when a large company like Oracle is there.”

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Illustration: Wes Rowell

Aaron Ricadela

Aaron Ricadela

Aaron Ricadela, based in Frankfurt, Germany, is a senior director of strategic communications for Oracle. Previously, he spent 20 years as a business journalist covering the tech industry at BusinessWeek, Bloomberg News, InformationWeek, and other news media. You can follow him on Twitter @ricadela1.