Five startups whose innovations can disrupt the retail sector
Two years and more than 15 startups later, Target Accelerator launched its fourth batch of startups, selecting and curating ideas that could possibly disrupt their in-store experience for their 1,795 outlets across the world.
So after four batches, and a fourth one in the works, is Target really bringing anything interesting to the conversation?
Giving us the answer is, Jamil Ghani, Senior Vice President, Target for Enterprise Strategy, Innovation, Wellness and Consumer Internet of Things (IoT). He says:
A couple of key changes have occurred over the four batches as we see it. At first, we started with core-enabling technologies for digital, and now we have expanded well beyond that. We are working on core operations, and on core back office functions like finance and law. So, we are expanding that footprint.
“Another thing we have seen is that we are not looking at just enabling capabilities, but also at end-user products, with experiences in products. Some of the startups we are talking to in this batch are developing consumer products keeping the Indian and US markets in mind.”
Saying it was all about mentorship, core-development, and getting a startup’s ideas tested, Navneet Kapoor, President and Managing Director, Target India, presented the chosen five that made it to the accelerator this year.
Meet the startups
- Lechal – The interactive, haptic footwear
The startup started as a manufacturer of interactive, haptic shoes for the visually impaired. They offer high mobility to the visually impaired, without the help of expensive visual-aid devices. This project has now transformed into a startup, and is manufacturing low-cost shoes for the visually impaired in India.
- Preksh- The visual merchandiser
This startup is solving the search-and-discovery problem by virtualising and capturing the store in 3D through Google Street View. This lets you experience the architecture and services of a store in front of your computer screens, allowing customers to select sections and virtually see the products lined up on the racks for sale. Some of their key clients include Van Heusen and BabyOye.
Bootstrapped, the business model for the firm is essentially a SaaS-based subscription model, looking to raise Rs 1.5 crore in funding for their next stage of growth.
- LawBot – The virtual law firm
Started by Manaswani Krishna and Krishna Sundaresan, the platform is essentially an AI-powered contracts engine that helps in drafting and reviewing contracts. Once a contract is uploaded onto the system, the platform checks for any common errors and loopholes, while pointing out missing obligations and restrictions in a certain contract.
The platform also focusses on drafting. The founders explain that just like Microsoft Word, lawyers can search for a certain clause and insert it as a part of the contract. Starting ideation in May 2015, the firm is moving towards integrating Natural Language Query. Bootstrapped, the firm is seeking funds to propel their growth.
- Uncanny Vision – The smarter surveillance
Started by entrepreneurs Navaneet S and Ranjith Parakkal, the startup aims to provide vision to IoT devices. Functioning in the computer vision space, for the founders, most surveillance cameras are blind, providing not much insights into what they capture. Uncanny Vision’s technology enables surveillance cameras to successfully identify objects, people’s actions, and offers scene and face recognition as well as infrared pedestrian-detection capabilities. Their clientele majorly comprises Fortune 500 companies.
Having already earned $157,000 in revenues for FY 2015-16, the technology platform will help Target better gauge the reactions of the consumers in store, like say if a customer is interested, price conscious, or a thief. This, in turn, will lead to subsequent action by the store.
In a nutshell, the company is implementing deep learning for vision, developing 25+ neural networks.
- MintM – The Magnet
Being a customer engagement platform, their product, Magnet essentially tracks intelligent engagement at stores. Further, it throws up an analytics review to identify a trend for actionable insights. They also help bigger consumer brands get information on footfall, content and engagement in a dashboard format.
According to the founders, the platform has helped big brands increase their engagement by close to 20 times. This assessment is also done on marketing and advertising content floated by clients to increase sales. Some of their key clients include ITC, Nestle, Target rival brand Tesco, Garnier, Nivea as well as beauty and wellness chain Health & Glow.
The firm has also received Pre Series A from Times Internet and finds clients across geographies of the UK, the US, Ireland, and Brazil.
But while seeing their interest peaking for AI, what sectors will Target be investing in or rather accelerating in the future?
Jamil says they have added a couple of key exploration areas (derived from their innovation priorities) to their core business. This includes:
- Internet of Things, which includes all things from sensors to wearables. The retailer is making strategic investments in the San Francisco market in this area.
- They are also focusing on wellness and food, collaborating with MIT, where they see a lot of foodtech and wellness tech opportunities.
- The third one is the ‘store of the future’, where it’s not about brick and mortar, but about brick and click, and the seamless integration of the two.
We are also interested new commerce experiences such as socially influenced commerce and conversational commerce. Especially considering Facebook’s recently introduced bot technology that is changing messenger into a shopping platform. We have 35 million customers walking into our stores every single week and an equal number who go online. Considering the massive population, we think that we can lead these newer avenues of commerce while strengthening the existing forms of commerce today.
As a part of the above initiative, Target just launched two of their internal innovations - Hashtag Shopping, which will enable shopping on social media through conversational commerce and hashtags, as well as A versus C, which will provide tools that offer a better understanding of online shopping cart abandonment or the conversion dropout problem.
The fourth batch will also see Target internalise the execution of the accelerator programme, which was outsourced as a function earlier. Moving forward, Navneet is hopeful that more such stories of internal innovation will get voices in future accelerators.
Although India might not be completely at the same level as other developed countries, accelerator programmes such as Target’s offer scale and volumes to test the idea, while lending startups exposure as well as perspective along with a product plan.