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John Lewis picks iBeacons, smart-home Sonos rival, and 3D planning start-ups as final partners for JLab incubator scheme

John Lewis has picked five start-ups for its technology incubator scheme JLab following a heavy round of pitching at Canary Wharf-based FinTech accelerator space Level 39 last week.

The retailer, which first revealed its plans to ‘invest in the future’ by partnering with technology entrepreneur Stuart Marks to launch the scheme in March, shortlisted 12 companies from the 30 that pitched to its judging panel on 20 May.

It then singled out five start-ups which specialise in iBeacon and proximity technology, smart home technology and 3D planning, alongside those that could help further tie together online and offline services.

The five lucky winners were: in-store digital engagement firm Localz; wireless sound system for smart homes Musaic; online 3D room planning firm SpaceDesigned; smart labelling for after sales-care specialist Tap2Connect, and a second in-store digital engagement specialist Viewsy.

Each will now receive £12,500 in investment and will take up residence in the JLabs hub, located within Level 39 at Canada Tower, Canary Wharf. They will also be given access to the retailer’s API, proprietary platforms and data, alongside the full mentor panel which comprises John Lewis experts, Sarah Murray OBE, founder of confused.com, Luke Johnson, chairman of Risk Capital Partners, and George Berkowski, entrepreneur, author of 'How to Build a Billion Dollar App' and former head of product at Hailo. John Lewis mentors to be made available to the five finalists include: Paul Coby, IT Director; Andrew Murphy, retail director; Simon Russell, director of retail operations; Peter Cross, communications director, and Craig Inglis, marketing director. Competition was fierce on the day, with some start-ups video conferencing in from China and Australia to pitch to the panel. Pitches varied from augmented reality to personalised, online 3D clothes fitting apps, to image recognition software and an internet of things moisture sensor specialist. However, it was clear the pitches that stood out to the panel focused hard on proximity services such as iBeacons technology and services which could help the retailer tie together its on and offline shopper journeys even more smartly. Speaking to The Drum during the pitching rounds at Canary Wharf John Lewis head of retail operations Simon Russell said the themes varied from solutions that could help its customers navigate better around its stores to boosting its ability to harness its data to render the offline and online shopper journey and customer service utterly seamless. Both Russell and JLab partner entrepreneur Stuart Marks, agreed there were surprisingly few pitches related to the Internet of Things - an area in which they had specifically called for contributions. Marks told The Drum the reason could be linked to the competitive imbalance in the current Internet of Things market. “We would like to have seen more around the internet of things. My sense is that the reason we didn’t is that it still seems to be dominated by some very big companies – the Ciscos of this world and others that are probably hijacking it a bit in terms of what’s going on. “While there are a number of start-ups in this area I’m not sure that even if we had had 50 applications in that area if we would have, after a year, found a use case for it. “But if we were to repeat this next year I could see it being much further developed and people submitting more Internet of Things applications that you could actually use. So it’s not even a disappointment that there weren’t many in that area – we perhaps put out the category a year too early,” he said. Russell agreed the Internet of Things is an area it will continue to pursue, adding that the retailer has a sense of responsibility when it comes to helping its customers make sense of that area. “It’s an area we know our customers just need some help, Many of them have bought things that can be connected already, they just don’t know how to do it.“We sell lots of the individual products already that can be connected up, but we have a role to play in helping people connect it all up. That’s where the customer service and the trust in the brand will serve to help people with the right solutions bring everything alive in their house, and create the connected home,” said Russell.

Musaic - singled out as a 'disruptive' competitor to Sonos by John Lewis panel

Among the successful pitchers was a wireless music system - Musaic - designed to integrate within the connected home, and which was singled out for being a direct competitor to Sonos. Musaic (video above) is a wireless sound system designed to integrate fully with today’s smart home. Created by Matthew Bramble, Simon Grabowski and Carolyn Van Dongen, the wireless Hi-Fi system can stream music from any platform to multiple rooms in a house.Marks told The Drum that Sonos currently dominates the connected, wireless Hi-Fi music landscape, but that this new start-up Musaic offers an interesting alternative. “This other company has come in with a very different idea of how to connect everything up – especially around music – which was interesting. If you think of connected music you think of Sonos – but these guys do something different – it’s the first time I’ve see something like this. If we were to repeat the JLab scheme next year there would be more stuff like that I think that would be ready for market,” he added. During the final pitching process The Drum heard experts on the judging panel ask whether Musaic would be willing to give it exclusivity on the sale of the product, to which one of the founders replied - yes - if it was not an indefinite exclusivity time limit. See below for videos of the other four winners to join JLab.

Localz - iBeacon technology-based start-up

Localz from Duke Creative on Vimeo.

Video conferencing in from Australia was Localz, an in-store digital engagement system which uses iBeacon technology, designed to alert retailers to when their best online shoppers physically arrive at their stores. Its co-founders are Tim Andrew, Pete Williams and Melvin Artemas.

SpaceDesigned

Co-founded by Nicholas and Diane Shaw, SpaceDesigned is an online app designed to let consumers accurately create and view virtual 3D versions of rooms in their house. They can then add potential new furniture purchases and see how they might fit in.

Tap2Connect

Tap2Connect, founded by Steve Cooke, is an after-sales service that uses smart labels, which let consumers and retailers track a product's lifecycle and make on-going service or repairs easier to handle.

Viewsy

Viewsy promo from arteffects on Vimeo.

Viewsy, founded by Odera Ume-Ezeoke, is an in-store digital engagement system designed to help retailers better understand their customers. In-store sensors track customers’ behaviour as they move through the store, which retailers can then use to tailor more personalised and efficient services.After a 12-week incubation period the JLab panel will pick one company which will then receive up to £100,000 in further investment and the chance to pilot their service in-store. If the trial is deemed a success the solution may then be rolled out across the entire John Lewis estate.

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