Hopeful UK and European startups pitched to win a place in John Lewis' accelerator scheme, JLAB, in East London this morning, all hoping to replicate the success of last year's winner, iBeacon tech firm Localz.
The retailer is on the hunt for the ten best entrepreneurs in the UK and Europe, after whittling over 160 applications down to a shortlist of 24.
The top ten startups will sit inside John Lewis’ head office at West London as part of JLAB for twelve weeks over the summer, before the retailer awards one winner with £100,000 and a possible business opportunity.
Sarah Venning, director of IT operations at John Lewis told Techworld that following last year’s programme, John Lewis decided to create specific categories to solve business problems they had already identified. However, there was a ‘surprise us’ category as “we don’t know all the answers and didn’t want to close off our opportunities.”
JLABs has moved from an incubator space in Canary Wharf to its own HQ in Victoria as, "one of the things that the companies really valued is the proximity to us as a retailer, what’s on my mind from an IT perspective what are our retail guys worried about and bringing them directly into our business", Venning explained.
Pitches ranged from Israel-based Zikit’s push notification advert that will disappear once a buyer leaves the shop and Qudini – a digital alternative to the “take a paper ticket” methods for customer flow management. With Qudini, customers can check-in and receive updates from staff and directly to their mobile phones while waiting to pay or for a specific in-store service.
Judges including Confused.com founder Sara Murray and Graham Clempson, managing partner of Quartic Capital, also heard from startups offering a Tinder-like app for gift buying, a location-based eBook service, and personalised reward schemes as well as smart home control apps.
The hopefuls will hear if they have moved to the incubator stage next week, with the winner announced in September.
'Thriving London tech scene boosts entrepreneurs confidence'
Venning said that the investment in London’s “thriving startup scene” was paying off, judging by the quality and levels of confidence in applicants to the John Lewis scheme, and that initatives like Tech City were “really driving value for UK plc.”
She said: "The vibrancy of the London scene at the moment is amazing. Since Tech City was founded in 2010 is it is just flying. It is really driving UK for UK plc and showcasing us as a fantastic modern economy in which to work in.”
Tips if you want to make it to the JLAB accelerator
For those who missed this year's deadline, but considering applying next year, Venning shed some light on what John Lewis is looking for in its applicants: “It’s a real combination. We are looking for people with the right attitude as well as people who are flexible, creative. Integrity is really important to us too. Of course we are looking for people who have really thought through what the problem they are solving and not just ;innovation for innovation’s sake'.
"It’s not just about the technology, it is about how that will make a difference ot our customer and partner’s lives and help us deliver excellent customer service.”
What has John Lewis learnt from startups?
Venning added that John Lewis’ IT team had also seen a change in its “frame of mind” thanks to working with the startups. She said: “there’s a kind of hunger and expectation that you will keep changing and keep challenging yourself and that has been just brilliant for us, to keep us fresh and successful for the next 150 years.”