JLAB start-ups: where are they now?

After going through 280 applications, John Lewis has chosen five technology companies as the finalists for its third JLAB start-up accelerator programme.

The five start-ups will spend ten weeks at the John Lewis head office, learning about the everyday operations of the retailer, while developing their commercial insights and products with help from specialist mentors. The finalist are all eligible to receive funding of up to £100,000 from John Lewis.

This year's cohort includes technologies varying from robotics, machine learning and smart homes to social commerce and a wedding planner smartphone app.

JLAB 2016 finalists:

Robotical: The creators of Marty the Robot. A fully programmable, customisable walking robot to help kids learn about coding, 3D printing and robotics.

DigitalBridge: DigitalBridge solves the problem of the imagination gap by allowing customers to visualise new home furnishings using Computer Vision and Machine Learning technology.

Ding Labs: A doorbell that taps into the smart home revolution by enabling homeowners to talk to the person at their front door from anywhere in the world.

Link Big: A tool that turns Instagram to a social checkout by allowing customers to buy products seamlessly from their Instagram feed.

Wedding Planner: Combining technology, industry expertise and creativity to help brides and grooms to-be plan their wedding from their phone and online.

Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, said: “From programmable robotics to advanced visualisation, our finalists are locked into some of the most exciting growth areas in modern retail.  John Lewis aims to be at the forefront of innovation, and JLAB is how we engage with the vibrant UK start up scene. The next twelve weeks will be a great period of development for the finalists, as they rapidly hone their products under guidance from John Lewis mentors and industry experts. I can’t wait to see what the final outcome will be.”

This is John Lewis' third year of working with start-ups to discover the latest in retail technology solutions, but what has happened to the previous two winners?

2015: Peeple

Last year, the retailer betted on the internet of things (IoT), crowning start-up company, Peeple, the winner. Peeple produces a Wi-Fi connected smart camera which attaches to front doors and alerts users when anyone arrives at their home. Designed as an IoT product, the camera sends a notification to the homeowner's smartphone or tablet so they can virtually look through the door peephole wherever they are located.

Unfortunately, over the last year, the start-up has been plagued with branding complications after another company of the same name launched its controversial mobile app. The 'other' Peeple is an app that allows people to leave recommendations for other people based on professional, personal and romantic relationships.

Meanwhile, IoT start-up, Peeple, used its £100,000 winnings to develop its digital peephole. Its website is accepting pre-orders for a 25% discount at $149, with shipping expected from the autumn, while John Lewis is expected to stock the product as part of its range of smart home devices.

2014: Localz

Location-based technology, was the innovation of choice for John Lewis in 2014, when the retailer announced Localz as the inaugural winner of the JLAB competition.

The start-up has since helped John Lewis trial a more convenient click & collect service that identifies when customers are close to a store, allowing the retailer to prepare pre-ordered goods for collection.

The start-up has no live progammes in place with John Lewis currently, but is now working with Autoglass, Boots, Domino's, DPD, Jaguar Land Rover, Super Retail Group and Woolworths (Australia) to name a few.

Essential Retail (ER) caught up with CEO and co-founder of Localz, Tim Andrew (TA), to find out how the company is progression, two years on from JLab. 

ER: How has the company expanded since JLAB?

TA: It's been nearly two years since we won JLAB and we've been growing strongly since both in our home country, Australia, and here in the UK too. We have significantly grown our large enterprise customer base and our revenue has increased well over 1,000% since finishing JLAB.

ER: How did the JLAB accelerator experience help you develop your business, did you make any changes while involved in the programme?

TA: Working with the team at John Lewis, we learnt a lot about the challenges and opportunities facing large omnichannel retailers in Europe. We built out an extension on top of our core location tech platform to improve the click & collect experience and efficiency for retailers during our time at JLAB. The positive PR associated with winning JLAB was initially very beneficial for our credibility in the UK.

ER: How did you use the John Lewis investment to further the business?

TA: We received £100,000 combined investment from John Lewis and L Marks and used this to expand on and run a very successful pilot of our solution across two stores with John Lewis through Christmas 2015.

ER: What are your goals for the next 12 months?

TA: We are seeking to help progressive omnichannel retailers in Europe improve their business efficiency while at the same time deliver a differentiated customer experience. Using our Localz click & collect solution is a great place to start. 

ER: Anything else?

TA: We are also seeking to expand our last mile delivery platform (refer to the Your DPD app that Localz powers) by embedding this into retailer apps for a seamless delivery experience.