Target has opened the application process for the second round of its Target + Techstars retail accelerator program, which allows retail-specific tech startups to compete for an opportunity to relocate to the retailer's Minneapolis headquarters for an intensive program to speed the development and test the validity of their innovations.
Target said that during the first round of the accelerator program, more than 150 mentors gave more than 500 hours of their time and expertise to the selected startups over a period of 14 weeks. The success of the program is driving Target to create other retail accelerators outside the Techstars program, including one focused on Internet of Things startups.
As further evidence of the success of the program, Target said it recently made an initial investment in Inspectorio, a startup that went through the program. Inspectorio is focused on quality inspections for textiles and consumer goods in Asia and South America, and is currently in the midst of pilots around footwear and apparel.
Target isn't just helping these small technology companies speed up development of their own concepts. It's got an eye toward investing in some of them, as it did with Inspectorio, and handing some of its own big technology jobs over to others, as it did with AddStructure, the Techstars program alum that Target tapped to develop a rival solution to Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant.
Still other start-ups that have been through the program have gone on to work for other major brands, and who knows if those bigger companies would have noticed them if they hadn't been through Target + Techstars. One example: Retail forecasting and data analytics startup Nexosis, which is now integrated with e-commerce platforms like Lightspeed, Magento and Shopify. Blueprint Registry is another that earned a lot of notice.
Last year, the 10 companies chosen to advance to the mentoring phase were named in June, so we'll see if the same timing applies this year. In any case, it has taken Target a little more than a year to create an aura around itself as a retailer that aggressively promotes new retail technology innovations. It may have even spawned an imitator — Amazon's Alexa accelerator program.
We hear a lot about other major retailers advancing their own innovations through own innovation lab ventures, but Target is casting a much wider net. It has already caught innovations in that net that can be useful to itself and the broader retail sector. We're looking forward to hearing about the new names and innovations that will emerge from the second round of this program.