Unveiling Construct by Lowe’s Innovation labs - a sector and stage agnostic accelerator programme for deep-tech startups
Since our inception in 2014, we have made rapid strides and created a strong mark in the retail space through our work, through our culture, people practice and a strong legacy, through our efforts to give back to our communities, and through technology and innovation. Our 2500+ associates working across tech, analytics, shared services, business operations, finance and accounting, product management, etc. help our customers to fulfil their dreams of a home as we provide them an engaged and seamless shopping experience no matter how they shop with us.” shared Ankur Mittal, MD and VP - Technology, Lowe's India in his opening address at the launch of Construct by Lowe’s Innovation Labs.
Lowe’s India is the analytics and business operations center for Lowe’s Companies Inc, FORTUNE® 50 home improvement company serving approximately 18 million customers a week in the United States and Canada.
The virtual event saw participation from key leadership at Lowe’s, VC firms, corporate innovation teams and seven startups that were selected for the maiden cohort. In his introductory address, Ankur gave a brief overview of Lowe’s India, its vision and its innovation focus.
“The innovation facility in Bengaluru will push the boundaries of technology such as AI, ML, AR, NLP, Robotics, Blockchain, Nanotechnology, among others to build the next frontier of retail,” he added.
Lowe’s Innovation Labs: A living lab focused on innovation
After Ankur’s address on Lowe’s and its innovation focus, Cheryl Friedman, VP, Innovation, Lowe's put the spotlight on Lowe's Innovation Labs - the innovation hub for Lowe’s Companies, Inc . She said “We are not just a pioneer in retail application in emerging technologies, but our work is done in a living lab - testing and iterating in our customer’s home as well as in our stores.”
She further highlighted how the Labs is accelerating the experiences that customers expect today and developing capabilities that will power tomorrow. “Many corporate innovation groups are either focusing solely on internal R&D or they are focused on external partnerships to find solutions and we're actually really well equipped and shaped to do both.”
Cheryl also explained how Lowe’s Innovation Labs has collaborated with startups, accelerator programs, universities and global tech companies to further retail innovation.
“It (Construct by Lowe’s Innovation labs) is an opportunity for us to expand our network and welcome a bold new set of startups who will build short and long term solutions with us. And, we are eager to gain a more diverse and global perspective from the strong tech innovation scene in India and together build an amazing future for Lowe's and beyond.”
Leveraging stories to drive innovation
The address on Lowe’s Innovation Labs was followed by a deep dive on narrative driven innovation by Joshua Shabtai, Sr Director, Ecosystem, Lowe's Innovation Labs.
“One of our jobs at Lowe’s Innovation Labs, when it comes to developing tomorrow, involves trying to pin a few potential disruptive opportunities and really big potential opportunities that can transform businesses and lives of our most important stakeholders - our customers and our associates. And, we're working with ecosystem partners to help us find that future,” he reiterated.
He shared that the biggest challenge is to make the internal and external stakeholders believe that these future technologies are worth investing.
This is where a narrative-driven innovation comes into play. “It’s an approach that uses one of the oldest inventions - a story. A story helps to convey belief systems and brings people together to unlock imagination. When you tell a story with conflict and real protagonists, it brings with it the power to convince people.”
Walking through the three key principles that guide this narrative-driven approach, he shared, “The first principle is to turn the data into drama. The second is to focus on story-doing and not storytelling and the third is understand that everyone (but you) is a protagonist.”
It is here that Lowe’s Innovation Labs looks at itself not as the hero but at best the sidekick helping the protagonist, Joshua said.
“Our protagonists are our customers, associates, and the prospective customer. Then there is another protagonist that is close to our hearts - our partners. They help in furthering innovation that Lowe’s alone cannot think of and that’s why they are our heroes. And this is what today is all about.”
Construct: A flexible lightweight accelerator open to deep technology companies of all sizes and in all stages to partner with Lowe’s
After Lowe’s senior leaders set the stage and put the spotlight on Lowe’s innovation focus and how they support partners to join them in their innovation journey and scale, Abhay Tandon, Director and Head, Lowe's Innovation Labs-India unveiled a new chapter in retail revolution in India with its signature startup accelerator programme - Construct.
“India is home to a wide network of innovators developing solutions to global issues. We have set up CONSTRUCT as a way to partner with the brightest minds to reinvent home improvement retail,” said Abhay. “CONSTRUCT provides startups of all stages and sizes with an opportunity to apply their solutions in a highly conducive environment.”
Seven startups from across India, representing a diverse range of interests including merchandising, AI-driven trend forecasting, automated content generation, talent acquisition, hyper real AI and sustainable, next-gen home construction technology were selected. The programme is a flexible, lightweight accelerator open to deep technology companies of all sizes and stages, focused on enabling them to prototype, build and bring to the market the future of home improvement retail. The programme has a strong focus on real-world execution and is tailor-made for each startup. Lowe’s leaders, as well as internal and external mentors will be working in tandem with the startup to help, guide and support them in building out a unique solution.
Here are the seven startups, part of the maiden cohort, that pitched at the launch:
Stylumia: A Bengaluru-based startup focused on providing consumer-driven actionable product insights at internet scale using their proprietary AI-powered demand-sensing and prediction engines.
Infilect: A Bengaluru-based startup with strong computer vision capabilities and AI platforms, helping brands and retailers in measuring, monitoring and improving retail processes such as product distribution, placement and sales.
StoryXpress: A Delhi-NCR-based startup, it’s end-to-end video marketing platform enables brands and retailers to convert their e-commerce product catalogues into videos at a fraction of the existing time and cost.
Siddhi.ai: A Bengaluru-based startup focused on AI, crafting actionable insights from the vast unstructured resources of the open web to help lifestyle brands and retailers in personalising product decisions.
Nanospan: A Hyderabad-based startup focused on nanotechnology, producing graphene and nano composites with applications in building next-gen homes, defence tech and energy storage.
Headway.ai: This is a Bengaluru- based HRMS startup that blends AI & behavioral science to power enterprise talent acquisition, talent management and talent development with analytics and smart-bots to deliver faster and better recruitment, learning and employee engagement outcomes.
Rephrase.ai: A Bengaluru-based startup focused on building generative AI tools to make professional automated human-like videos with applications involving Hyperreal AI
Decoding the Shopper of the future
The startup pitches were interspersed with two insightful fireside chats. The first was between Sujeet Kumar, Co-Founder of Udaan, India's fastest unicorn and Abhay. Sujeet talked at length about the fundamental changes in technology, society and regulations and why startups should pay attention to these three aspects to unearth how they can capture the opportunity to innovate. Talking about why focus on geo-localisation is an important factor for shoppers in India in a B2B and B2C scenario, Sujeet said, “I think there are multiple opportunities in the domestic market. There is India and then there is ‘Bharat’ and multiple underlying layers between the two. These markets are very different when it comes to the kind of opportunities and challenges it presents.”
Answering the question about how they grew to become the fastest unicorn in the country, Sujeet answered, “I don’t see it as a culmination of a 26-month long effort but the continuation of the learning process that began right from the days we worked at Flipkart. At Udaan, on day one, we had those learnings to rely on and apply in the new content. In addition, I think it is also about getting the business fundamentals right. Because, if you do, you can achieve it faster than we did. We have examples from other markets on how startups have become unicorns in a year!”
Retail Innovation: Asian Style.
In yet another invigorating fireside chat, titled Retail Innovation: Asian Style, Ajey Gore, Group CTO, GoJek, in conversation with Abhay, explored the many factors that enabled GoJek to grow, scale and achieve market leadership.
Sharing the role of technology in its growth story, Ajey highlighted, “I see technology as the most effective tool to enable growth. But, we don’t optimize the technology. We have never gone for technologies that are fancy but not applicable. That said, we have leveraged technology to disrupt the market and make an impact. For instance, we were the first ones to introduce tipping to our drivers through the app. We were the first once to go contactless when the COVID challenge came about.”
Also sharing how GoJek’s research strategy has evolved over time, he shares, “In our early days, we started out saying ‘Here are the 10 things we can do for you’ to attract users. Today, we have turned that around by saying - ‘tell us what we can do for you.’”
Industry speaks: future of retail and technology
As part of the launch, there was a panel discussion between leaders from a cross section of sectors - startups, IT giants and retail groups, discussing the future of retail and the relevance of technology for retail businesses. On the panel were Nirupa Shankar, Executive Director, Brigade REAP, Shantha Maheswari, Managing Director
Lead - Industry Network and Functions, Accenture and Swapan Rajdev, CTO and Co-Founder - Haptik.
Nirupa began the discussion highlighting the work of Brigade Group w.r.t. collaboration with startups, then moving on to how, offline stores today need a better online presence, while online businesses need to bring a more realistic look and feel to their shopping experience. “Personalization is the way to go, not only in retail but for almost every business. We will have to start monitoring our consumer preferences, delve deeper into consumer analytics and consumer behaviour.”
Sharing her observations on the emerging consumer insights, Shantha said, today we are seeing the evolution of a whole new definition of sustainability attributes, ethical attributes and safety models. We are seeing a lot of these responsible retail attributes taking centre stage for customers.” Shantha also shared examples of exponential innovations, interesting application of technology and how Accenture is bringing those to life.”
In the panel discussion, Swapan threw light on how conversational commerce is different from conversational AI and how Haptik has reimagined conversational AI to address the needs of commerce and retail ventures.
The discussion saw the leaders share insights on the need to invest in the new-age technologies from a retail perspective, the relevance of contactless technologies in the current context, future of immersive experiences across omni channels, among others.
The event was co-hosted by Aastha Pandey - Head, Partnerships, Lowe's Innovation Labs - India and Madanmohan Rao, Research Director, YourStory and saw participation from 7000+ online viewers.
Watch this space to know more about the startups part of the maiden cohort of Construct and the innovations they are bringing to Lowe’s.