John Lewis JLab Retail

The 21 tech start-ups getting John Lewis excited in 2015


By Jennifer Faull | Deputy Editor

June 5, 2015 | 5 min read

John Lewis’ start up incubator JLabs has returned for a second year and The Drum was invited to meet the 21 start-ups – whittled down from over 180 – invited to pitch their ideas to judges.

The winner of last year’s £100,000 funding and mentorship was iBeacon start-up Localz. Unsurprising then that location tracking technology was not a hot topic, although many presented ideas that could work in tandem with Localz.

However, mobile payments, loyalty tech, smart home and social commerce proved key themes. Here are the start-ups playing in the space that grabbed John Lewis’ attention.

Smartphone charging

Two start-ups sought to solve the problem of paltry battery life with smartphones. NitroQ (1) pitched itself as a “socket in your pocket” – a strapline which drew a giggle from judges – claiming its tech can charge a phone in just seven minutes. Meanwhile, Helios (2) took a more environmentally friendly approach and demonstrated a sleek iPhone cover with solar panels which converts the sun’s energy into juice for your phone.

Mobile Payments

Highlighting John Lewis' intention to forge ahead with a mobile payment offering, several start-ups were invited to pitch their solutions. Some focused on how mobile payment can bust pain spots such as queuing with Quedie (3), Go Skip (4), and OneScan (5) all showcasing tech that lets customers scan and pay through their phones.

Elsewhere, linking mobile payments with rewards was the proposal from Droplet (6), a free app that lets users collect rewards on their phone. Similarly ZenCard (7) turns existing payments cards into loyalty cards, automatically rewarding the customer each time they shop.

Personalising Loyalty

Closely linked, solutions to personalise the consumer experience, particularly loyalty programmes, were pitched. Zikit (8) creates offers based on previous shopper experience data to create location based deals that expire the moment a shopper leaves a certain area.

StreetLike (9) has sought to make loyalty programmes more seamless with touchscreen digital signage where users enter their mobile number to immediately receive a reward.

Gift Bubbles (10) – the “Tinder for gifting” – matches up coming events in a shoppers calendar with personalised gift suggestions and rewarding them with offers. .

Finally, among the more abstract, Rook (11) offers free access eBooks when a user is in a certain location, such as a train station, airport, hospital etc. This would be particularly relevant for Waitrose café.

Social Commerce

Highline (12), BagThat (13) and Kickr (14) were all brought in to pitch on why John Lewis should consider social commerce, a growing area thanks to the likes of Instagram and Pinterest introducing ‘Buy’ buttons. Data would be the big draw for the retailer here, as users browse, invite friends, share content, and buy through one platform.

Smart Home

Amid the rise of technology that connects the home, two start-ups – Alfred (15) and Cozify (16) – showcased solutions which centralises everything a person might want to control into one easily accessible app. A more obscure pitch came from Peeple (17) which targets “anyone with a door and a smartphone.” It’s basically caller-ID for the home, alerting users with videos and images when a door is opened or closed, if someone is at the door, or if they miss a visitor.

Store Management

Mercaux (18) and Intelligent Replenishment (19) both offered solutions to the costly problem of empty shelves. US-based Mercaux is an iPad tool that gives information about inventory, outfit pairings, special promotions, and training materials to staff.

Intelligent Replenishment sends alerts to staff via a mobile device about areas of the store where stock is low or sold out and then guides them to where it is located in the stockroom to make the whole process smoother.

The Wildcard

Finally, the two wildcard submission. The first, Holo (20), is almost like virtual reality tech – which John Lewis has been experimenting with. It creates life-sized 3D holograms of objects which people can interact with - think furniture in the case of John Lewis.

And the second is Space Lounges (21), a company run by two 18-years olds and a 15 year old who was unable to present as he had his final GCSE. This was a concept for a coffee shop where smartphone technology integrates with great human service to create a unique experience.

The final six will be selected in the coming days to receive enter the incubator for mentoring and a small cash injection to refine their propositions before a final winner is announced later this year.

Joining John Lewis innovation manager, John Vary, director of IT operations, Sarah Venning and entrepreneur Stuart Marks on the judging board was founder Sara Murray, Rachel Arthur global senior editor of digital media and marketing for WGSN, a trend forecaster, and Julian Burnett, chief technology officer at TH_NK, among others.

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