Tech start-ups need exposure to innovation

New vendors operating in the UK retail tech sector would benefit from the creation of centres of excellence sponsored by the leading retail businesses, according to the managing director of retail innovation specialist Eccomplished.

Speaking to Essential Retail, Stephen Millard said that the government could do more to help support the development of what he described as "cohorts of companies that are all innovators around the same space".

The former global VP of marketing at MessageLabs and ex-European marketing director at Oracle said there is an opportunity for the government to go a step further than it has done in helping attract companies to tech hubs such as London's Shoreditch, and give start-ups a better chance to thrive.

"One of the biggest challenges for start-ups we see is that they are not exposed enough to other businesses operating in their specific area – it's a really critical thing for a company of that nature," he explained.

"Yes you want to be surrounded by other start-ups but really you want to be working with people who are innovating in the same space as you. Be operating in an eco-system that is all about your end-customer. That's something we could do a far better job of, and the government can play a greater role both locally and nationwide."

Millard proposed the idea of centres of excellence for retail innovation sponsored by the likes of Tesco or Marks & Spencer to help develop new small firms entering the industry.

His comments come ahead of Eccomplished's inaugural investor forum dedicated exclusively to retail technology and innovation. In association with technology investment firms Match Capital and Journey Ventures, the event is set to provide retail tech firms with a platform for attracting investment.

The Retail 20:20 event is scheduled to take place at Soho Hotel on 25 September and give retail technology innovators a chance to pitch their businesses to leading investors in the field. They will have 20 slides to present and 20 seconds per slide to make their pitch.

Millard said that a wide range of vendors have already applied to participate, with many of them seemingly aware that mobile and in-store technology are currently the two areas where retailers are particularly keen to invest in order to modernise their businesses.

"The biggest area for multichannel retail is the reinvention of the physical retail space and the role digital plays in that," the managing director noted.

"Many of the companies have huge assets and associated costs and need to maximise the value from them. They either need to use every aspect of the physical shop to drive engagement with the customer, or they need to downscale that presence while at the same time upping their level of inventory and access to digital."

The Retail 20:20 Investor Forum is open to applications from retail technology companies looking for early stage or growth funding, and selected participants will receive mentoring from the Eccomplished investor readiness team.

Technology companies wishing to pitch must apply before the 31 August 2013.

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