Apply for John Lewis’s start-up accelerator scheme

Retailer seeks five start-ups to change the face of shopping

John Lewis is looking for start-ups to join its accelerator programme, JLAB, with up to 100,000 funding up for grabs.

The retailer is running the scheme for the third year in a row, allowing up to five start-ups to turn their ideas into business products at its London headquarters.

At the end of the 12-week programme, which is a joint venture with start-up investment fund L Marks, entrepreneurs can pitch for up to 100,000 of John Lewis's pot of 200,000 available to the start-ups, in exchange for equity.

IT director Paul Coby told IT Pro: "Our founder came from the perspective that we don't have a monopoly on good ideas in technology. We want to open ourselves up to people who have great ideas about technology and understand how an iBeacon will work or how databases will work, who are excited about the Internet of Things (IoT), where great stuff is going on.

"But what they don't usually know is how those can be applied in the real world to change how customers shop, how we serve customers, how the business operates. We've got the key directors in the business to help. Start-ups can take their technology idea and develop it into a real business solution, or a real product."

Coby is looking for ideas falling into one of five categories Health and Wellbeing, Simplify My Life, Effortless Shopping, Tech for Kids, and Surprise Us.

Entrepreneurs with innovative ideas in these areas (the last one being a catch-all for good concepts that do not fit into other categories) will also help John Lewis, Coby explained.

The way the retailer interacts with its customers has evolved dramatically over the last five years thanks to technology, with a third of its sales now occurring online, and people often visiting stores to browse before buying online, or ordering online via mobile and picking up in stores.

"If this works it's a two-way street," Coby said. "We get a lot of stimulation out of this, it's good for us to have these people coming into our building and working with us, pushing us and challenging us."

Start-ups working in the "windowless room on the first floor" will receive mentorship from John Lewis directors of IT, retail and online divisions, as well as the director of buying for electronics and home technology.

They will also get feedback on their products from a series of customer panels, as well as an understanding of how John Lewis's flagship branch on Oxford Street runs behind the scenes.

"You'll have access to some really great people and you're going to have a ball," said Coby, who added: "The ones who get the most out of this are the ones who really engage."

John Lewis had more than 180 applicants for last year's accelerator, but one of the successful applicants voted for by John Lewis Partners, will receive six months' free accommodation.

Chris Chuter, CEO of Peeple, the start-up behind a Caller ID app for people's front doors that won last year's JLAB, said: "JLAB turned us 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."

Applications are now open, and will close at midnight on Sunday, 8 May. John Lewis and L Marks will then select up to five start-ups for the JLAB programme, which starts in July.

The overall winner will be announced at a special event in September.

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