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M&S reflects on one year of Founders Factory start-up partnership

Marks & Spencer (M&S) has spoken positively about its first year working with start-up accelerator and incubator, Founders Factory.

The retailer has invested in five businesses this year as part of the partnership, and in a message to staff, M&S said the best thing about the collaboration is “we all get involved in choosing which start-ups are right for us to work with”.

It added that “embracing agility by leveraging a start-up way of working” is a key part of the company’s strategy – and it is part of what CEO Steve Rowe has frequently suggested is an ambition to become a digital-first business against the backdrop of what continues to be a battle for sales growth, particularly in its non-food division.

“It was only natural that we’d partner up with Founders Factory, an organisation that accelerates and incubates start-up businesses,” M&S said.

“Joining forces with them last year has been key to helping us drive innovation; stimulating ideas and unlocking the new thinking we need to move forward.”

The companies M&S has invested in, as part of its work with Founders Factory over the last 12 months, include portable phone charger firm, ChargedUp, which now has 1,500 stations across the UK, including in some M&S stores.

The start-up work has also led to M&S selling Rocketo, a raw, dehydrated and organic, environmentally-responsible dog food, in 28 stores, as well as offering its customers the chance to take advantage of The Drop, a quick-fire tailor-made suit service costing £299.

Other businesses to have received M&S investment include Texel, a 3D scanning technology that gives customers the chance to create digital avatars to help them find clothing most appropriate to their shape and size, and Cogz, which is a marketplace for selling surplus produce direct to trade buyers before it becomes food waste.

M&S also said it is working closely with Founders Factory to help build a company "from scratch". That business in question is Ruley, which allows influencers to create capsule collections to market and sell directly to their online audience.

“This has the potential to disrupt the ethical and sustainable fashion influencer space, and we’re excited to be at the forefront,” the retailer said.