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UK’s largest retail tech accelerator created as Waitrose teams with John Lewis

Supermarket chain Waitrose has joined forces with parent company John Lewis to create what’s been billed as the largest retail tech accelerator in Britain, JLAB 2017.
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This marks the fourth year that John Lewis’ JLAB programme has taken place following launch in 2014, but it will be the first time that Waitrose has been involved in the search for growing retail tech businesses.

The accelerator runs in partnership with innovation specialist L Marks, while the union of Waitrose and John Lewis for the initiative is set to widen growth opportunities for retail tech.

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Applications to join JLAB 2017 begin on Tuesday 28 March and close on Sunday 30 April. Up to ten applicants will be chosen to participate for the chance to have retail tech offerings rolled out across John Lewis and Waitrose.

With a £200,000 pot available, companies can exchange funding for equity, with an option to apply for up to £100,000. John Lewis’ goal is to develop long-term deals with the retail tech businesses on the programme, hoping the services will benefit customers in turn.

Paul Coby, chief information officer, John Lewis Partnership, said: “Industries are being disrupted almost overnight and retail technology in particular is evolving at a rapid pace. JLAB enables us to augment our understanding of innovation and partner with these disruptors to offer the next generation of customer experiences.

“Waitrose involvement in JLAB means we can now provide start-ups with unprecedented access to two of the UK’s leading retailers and ensure we add value to these fledgling companies, in the same spirit of cooperation the John Lewis Partnership was founded on.”

The 12-week JLAB 2017 accelerator will begin in July and those chosen will secure access to senior mentors, free workspace at the John Lewis HQ in London’s Victoria and Waitrose HQ. An overall winner will be declared in September during a showcase.

Retail tech businesses are invited to enter the following categories:

  • Amazing food experiences:  For businesses that can add convenience and excitement when serving food.
  • Amazing store experiences: For businesses that can make stores more inspiring and unique.
  • Effortless shopping: For businesses that can save consumers time when shopping, both online and in-store.
  • Help me live a healthier life: For businesses that can help customers live well where food and lifestyle are concerned.
  • Smarter supply chain: For businesses that can add innovation to the traditional supply chain, such as incorporating Internet of Things into delivery.
  • Surprise us: For businesses that have “out of this world” innovations that can’t be categorised.

“JLAB has become one of the best and most advanced retail accelerator programmes, attracting hundreds of hopeful entrepreneurs from around the world,” said Stuart Marks, technology entrepreneur and chairman of L Marks.

“At a time when most large companies are seeing disruption all around them, the John Lewis Partnership has willingly opened up its entire business up to assist and develop startups.

“We are excited to have Waitrose join the programme and bringing with it their unique grocery related categories.  We expect this to be our best JLAB yet.”

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Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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