This week, five eager startups have 30 minutes to convince a panel that they should win £100,000 and a contract with retailer John Lewis after spending the summer in the JLAB accelerator to perfect their product and business model.

Last year’s winner, micro-location technology firm Localz, took home investment and the opportunity to trial its beacon technology in a John Lewis store in Chelsea. 

The JLAB startups pictured: Alfred Smart Home, Zest, Qudini and ikinen
The JLAB startups pictured: Alfred Smart Home, Zest, Qudini and ikinen

The technology alerts retailers when a particular customer walks into its stores based on a mobile phone signal - a perfect match for John Lewis' popular click and collect service.

Techworld caught up with some of this year's finalists to find out what it’s like to take part in an accelerator and why it’s so important for UK businesses like John Lewis to back fledgling entrepreneurs.

Qudini: ‘UK businesses that work with startups have competitive edge over other market leaders’

Queue-beating app Qudini helps retailers manage their customer’s journey through their store. The app updates customers with accurate information and personalised updates through text, paper ticketing and digital display interfaces. It could come in handy for John Lewis’ renowned Click and Collect service, for example. Techworld speaks to  Quidini's head of marketing, Niall Smith.

What has JLAB done for you?

“We have had a great experience in JLAB, even though we have been running for three years and have our own clients - we’ve been able to get access to areas of retail that you would never get the opportunity to have access to if you weren’t part of an accelerator like JLAB.”

“JLAB has helped us with refining our product to enable us to run a trial of our queue management system within the John Lewis Kingston Store, London. They’ve also guided us through the John Lewis procurement process, making sure that we have had sign off by key partners within John Lewis.”

What is a normal day at JLAB like?

“We have access to not only senior partners within John Lewis, but other professionals from outside the retailer that have come in to help progress our business further. We're preparing to trial Qudini within their stores, to better understand customer experiences, areas of opportunities and how to implement a solution into a large business like John Lewis.

“Throughout the day, we get to work around other great startups - what is great to see is the focus and determination from each business to drive their business forward. We have not only met some great business minded people but made friendships, I would like to think we would stay in touch and help each other out in the future.”

What do you hope to do in the future?

“To keep working with John Lewis, but during the JLAB accelerator we have become the global preferred supplier for Queue Management for Telefonica Global.

“This has allowed us expand internationally, so we will be looking to build new markets abroad as well as focus on our UK business, developing our Restaurant App to support our clients as their businesses grow and then look at new business in the UK market.”

How important it is for UK businesses to help startups?

“As large UK businesses look to fight for customer retention and increase their market share against other competitors, these businesses need to look at innovate ways to achieve this.

“Startups look to push the boundaries in technology and solutions to make part of people’s lives that bit easier. So UK businesses working with startups will enable the development of great UK solutions as well as improving the competitive edge over other market leaders.”

ikinen: 'We entered the accelerator with just an idea'

ikinen makes SolarCovers - the thinnest and greenest smartphone covers- for iPhone 6 and 6s. Techworld speaks to  cofounder and drector, Carlos Bas Gil.

What makes you tick?

“The SolarCover gives you one full charge on the go at a flick of a button - even with indoor light."

What’s so smart about it?

“We made the SolarCover smart. The cover communicates to a smartphone through the app, which monitors how much charge is stored up and the carbon footprint for the phone.

“The app allows users to connect to the ikinen community, compete and win sponsored rewards.”

What has JLAB done for you?

“The people in the other four amazing startups have become friends rather than competition and this has set a good environment in the office. We also had the chance to learn about a huge company (John Lewis) from the inside and got advice from the best people in each sector.

“We entered the accelerator with just an idea and during the time here we have branded our company, developed a product and arranged supply chain logistics for manufacturing - and found possible routes to market.

“Our mentors give us feedback on our development every two weeks and guide us throughout the program and hopefully will once it is over too.”

What is a normal day at JLAB like?

“There is no such thing as a normal day. Every day there is something new: fireside chats, meeting, new opportunities.  You don´t know what time the day will end and you can’t predict what is going to happen tomorrow. Every day is interesting and that’s why we can say, after three months, we have really been accelerated.”

What do you hope to do in the future?

“We’re launching a crowdfunding campaign so all the people who follows us can ensure they are the first to have a SolarCover.

How important it is for UK businesses to help startups?

“It is a key factor influencing development. Startups are essential in the economy of the country and, with UK businesses providing support, the journey to market can be shortened.”  

Alfred: 'JLAB has helped us develop a huge number of contacts'

Chief Business Development Officer and cofounder, Marco Matera tells Techworld“we're a home automation software that allow users to control a range of smart devices from a unique dashboard. We’re different to others on the market as we don’t have an external hub.  We integrate devices in our cloud architecture and control them, locally and remotely, by using a normal internet connection.

“We give the user the opportunity to choose between two different house management modes: the cost-driven management and the comfort mode. The app learns from the user’s habits and it works without human interaction. The cost-driven management can help the user save up to 40 percent on their energy consumption.

“We offer our service to businesses that want to offer smart home boxes or services to their customers.

What has JLAB done for you?

"JLAB has helped us develop a huge number of contacts; they helped us understand what was best for us, what was the right path to follow. We now understood how to manage a business and drive it to success."

What is a normal day at JLAB like?

“We enter the office, we start working, we have fun, all at the same time.”

What do you hope to do in the future?

“Our hope is to go to market with a strong product. Being successful will be a consequence of the hard work behind the product.”

How important it is for UK businesses to help startups?

“Startups are the companies of the future, we all know that the ideas that change the world usually comes from small group of people and then businesses invest to get a competitive advantage.

“The trends are changing and UK businesses have to invest in new, innovative companies to offer new and innovative services.”

Other startups in the accelerator include Peeple: a camera device that replaces the traditional peephole and lets you see who’s arrived at your front door on your phone.It helps you track deliveries or improve your home security.

The last, but by no means least, is the idea of teenage entrepreneurs Space Lounges. They created an app for purchase any item in a physical location in one tap on their smartphone.