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John Lewis startup accelerator looks for retail, health tech

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Programme looks for startups that can improve the retail experience.

Retailer John Lewis has opened applications for its accelerator programme, offering tech startups a share of a £200,000 bursary in exchange for developing innovative ideas for use in its department stores and online channels.

The ‘JLAB’ scheme is run with startup investor L Marks: applications for the programme are open now until midnight on Sunday 8 May, after which five startups will be chosen to compete in the 12 weeks scheme from July 2016. The overall winner will be announced in September.

Startups that want to take part in the scheme can enter in one of five categories including ‘Health and Wellbeing’, where entrants are encouraged to offer “new products or services that can help customers look after themselves” and ‘Simplify My Life,’ a category for startups who believe their technology can simplify the lives of John Lewis customers.

Other categories include ‘Effortless Shopping’, ‘Tech for Kids’ and ‘Surprise Us’ which the retailer said is set aside for “out of this world” innovations.

The JLAB scheme is now in its third year and John Lewis IT Director Paul Coby said it helps the retailer improve customer services.

“Last year’s JLAB saw us working closely with very bright, very driven startups, and we enjoyed getting fully immersed in the creation and refinement of their products,” he told ZDNet.

The retailer gets to work with disruptive new businesses, while the startups benefit from the “combined wealth of insights” within John Lewis and L Marks Coby said.

“Startups work very differently to larger businesses; they have a level of agility and nimbleness which allows them to innovate rapidly and boldly. By incorporating some of the leading retail-focused startups into John Lewis’ business, we can learn from each other, which is important,” he said.

Startups participating in the finals of the JLAB scheme will have access to a fund attached to the programme, with each team eligible to apply for funding of up to £100,000 from the total pot of £200,000 in exchange for equity in their company.

“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,” says Chris Chuter, CEO of Peeple, the smart-peephole for doors maker which won JLAB 2015.

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