John Lewis has opened applications for the firm's JLAB 2016 startup accelerator programme that aims to give newly formed technology companies the chance to gain commercial insight from one of the UK's biggest retail brands.
It will be the third year that John Lewis has accepted applications for the programme, which it runs in association with L Marks, with the aim of producing a product or service that will change for the better the way consumers shop.
"We've learnt from [previous JLAB programmes] and developed it and hope it is the best yet," John Lewis IT director Paul Coby told V3.
Coby said that the retailer received 180 applicants for last year's programme and is expecting a similar number this year.
Based in John Lewis' London headquarters, participants will work with senior mentors from John Lewis for 12 weeks, assigned according to specific industry expertise.
"Each year we highlight areas we want them to look at; there are some absolutely brilliant technologies out there whether it be focused on location services, big data or the Internet of Things. The startups really know the technology, but we can show them how the retail side works in the real world," Coby explained.
"The great thing is with JLAB is the startups don't just meet the technology people like me, they meet the buyers - those in the electrical and home technology departments, the director of retail development and director of John Lewis online - who all help to choose the finalists," he added.
The startups will also receive public feedback using customer panels.
Only five startups are selected to complete the 12 week JLAB programme which commences in July 2016, and one of the companies will get six months' free office space, as voted for by John Lewis Partners.
All of the five startups participating in JLAB will have access to capital from the dedicated microfund attached to the programme. Each team will be eligible to apply for funding of up to £100,000 from the total pot of £200,000, in exchange for equity in their company.
Coby told V3 that there had been several success stories with JLAB, including the winner from last year, smart home technology company Peeple.
Chris Chuter, CEO of Peeple, said that JLAB had turned the startup into a global company.
"Working with John Lewis and L Marks took us to the next level, and helped us better understand and create a product for the international market," he said.
Coby said that John Lewis had invested in four out of the five startups that participated in last year's programme, one of which has an RFI out with another IT company to provide support in John Lewis stores.
"One of the great things is you can see how these companies are moving from startups to companies that are developing products and competing in the market," he said.
The categories for this year's programme include products or services for health and well-being, simplifying customers' lives, enhancing in-store customer experience, technology for kids, and a wildcard of "innovations that are so out of this world they can't be classified".
The winner will be announced at an event in September 2016.
Startups can enter for free at JLAB.
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