Seeking startup cred: SAP pushes HANA as a platform for data startups

SAP(s sap) and Kendall Square have a lot in common. They are both legacy tech powers that want to attract — and keep — shiny new data startups.

That’s the back story to Friday’s SAP Startup Forum held at the hack/reduce facility in Cambridge, Mass.’s Kendall Square neighborhood. There SAP talked up HANA, the company’s analytics database as a development platform data (or big data) applications to more than a dozen startups including Hadapt, Entagen, Diffeo, Objective Logistics, InsightSquared, Luminoso, Sqrrl, and Veracode. Those startups, in turn, were able to tout their business plans and demonstrate their products to an audience of reporters, VCs and others.

hack/reduce logoWanted: (big) data startups

“We’re pitching to the startups and they’re pitching to us,” Scott Jones, SAP’s senior director for startup training and enablement told about 100 attendees. HANA, which debuted three years ago, has given SAP traction in an audience beyond its usual big-company ERP customer base and SAP fully intends to press that advantage.  SAP Ventures, the company’s VC arm, is increasingly active in finding and funding data startups. And it would very much like them to build their technology atop HANA.

The SAP execs repeatedly talked up HANA ONE, which runs on Amazon(s amzn) Web Services, as if to say “this isn’t the traditional, big iron, expensive SAP” of another era. It costs $3.49 per hour to run HANA ONE on an AWS EC2 8-core cluster.

As for the startups, many were clearly intrigued by HANA’s capabilities although none of those I talked to had actually run it. The consensus was this type of event and the promised perks — Jones offered free “no strings attached”  licenses and training — are what cash-strapped startups need. Indeed, that may be only way for a large commercial software vendor like SAP to hook small companies born-and-bred in a world dominated by free or nearly-free open-source software and rentable AWS infrastructure.

Plea to local startups: Stay put

A gaggle of area VCs were also on hand to sweet talk entrepreneurs into staying local rather than decamping to Silicon Valley after graduating from Harvard or MIT — as has been standard practice. Chris Lynch, the former CEO of Vertica Systems(s hpq), who has helped nurture a big data startup community in and around Boston, was on hand to talk up that effort.

And, Dr. Sam Madden, of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) was there to help out. “Boston is an awesome place for startups — there’s a spectacular pool of outstanding, hungry young talent [here].” It helps that the VCs that used to live way out on the Route 128 corridor have relocated in closer into The Hub.

In the past two years, Kendall Square has seen a huge building boom with growing presence from Microsoft(s msft), Google(s goog), Amazon(s amzn), IBM(s ibm), Oracle(s orcl) and others. It’s a hip area to work for young techies — many of whom don’t own cars and like how mass transit and bike-friendly the area is.

Still, not every attendee was buying either pitch completely. Cyrille Vincey, CEO and founder of qunb, a data analytics and visualization startup that does use HANA, extolled its features and performance, but had one suggestion: “HANA is simple and fast. It feels like open source. Why don’t you open source it?”

And Timothy Jones, CEO and founder of Buzzient said his company, which has been based both Cambridge and Boston but is now virtual, may relocate to the San Francisco area. “We can get office space cheaper there than in Kendall Square,” he noted.