John Lewis unveils technology innovation lab

The managing director of department store chain John Lewis has reflected on the retailer's history of innovation while launching a new hub to develop technology and fresh ideas.

As the business unveiled what it has described as its "first ever technology incubator" on Sunday, Andy Street said that adopting a novel approach to business and retail innovation is "a fundamental part" of the John Lewis DNA.

Dubbed JLAB, the retailer will work alongside technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks to select five start-up companies that will work on customer-centric products and solutions which may be integrated into the wider business in time. The launch of JLAB is part of the retailer's 150-year anniversary celebrations.

"Our 150-year anniversary not only gives us the chance to reflect on our history, but to look forward at how we shape the next 150 years," explained Street.

"We have been ahead of the game in omnichannel retailing and through our JLAB incubator we will nurture the next generation of technology start-ups while helping ensure we remain on the cutting-edge of retail change."

The incubation period runs from June to September, with the five companies effectively operating in competition within the JLAB during that time. The businesses will work on new tech-focused ideas, supported by a team of John Lewis leaders and external mentors.

An overall winner will be announced in September, with John Lewis and Marks investing £50,000 each into the winning company. The start-up will get the chance to trial their solution and should this be a success, it will be implemented across the John Lewis estate.

Marks, who has built up and sold several tech-based companies specialising in big data, commented: "I'm delighted to be working with John Lewis on JLAB.

"We have crafted something unique in the UK retail sector that will give businesses access to the best mentors and to an environment where they can develop their ideas. I'm certain that we will find new and exciting technology that will strengthen John Lewis's leadership in omnichannel retailing."

The following areas will form the innovation framework:

Companies looking to participate in JLAB can apply at The application process starts today (3 March 2014) and closes 17 April 2014.

There will be a theatre, sponsored by Epson, dedicated to retail innovation at this year's RBTE, which runs from 11-12 March at London's Earls Court. Find out more here.