The Simon Property Group is getting competitive on the playing field for innovation.A year ago, Simon formed the Simon Venture Group, which has compiled an investment portfolio of 12 companies and is holding a contest for outstanding retail and retail-related tech start-ups, called “Future of Retail: Meet the Disruptors.” It’s down to 10 finalists, and the winner will be determined at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Tex., at the Decoded Fashion Mentorship Hub at the JW Marriott on Friday and Saturday.“This competition is a great event for Simon and the retail industry to showcase the future of retail, both in-store and online, as well as the convergence of digital with the physical world,” said J. Skyler Fernandes, managing director of Simon Venture Group.Decoded Fashion, an event series connecting fashion and retail brands with new technologies, is collaborating with Simon on the contest. “This competition was meant to gain visibility for the retail start-ups that could impact the future shopping experience,” said Liz Bacelar, founder and president of Decoded Fashion. The 10 finalists were selected from a field of 120 applicants. A panel of judges comprised of representatives from Simon, TechCrunch and Norwest Venture Partners will determine the winner, who will receive a $5,000 cash prize. Another $1,000 will be awarded to a winner voted on by the audience.In the age of the Internet, where e-commerce is rising and mall traffic is declining, shopping-center owners and operators must come up with ways to embrace the Web and technology to support their brick-and-mortar tenants and “omnify” the shopping experience. While seeking growth through new technology and retail formats, Simon, the nation’s largest mall developer and operator, has long been aggressively acquiring properties and this week disclosed a $22.4 billion hostile bid to buy Macerich Co., the nation’s third-largest shopping center owner and operator.Simon Venture will invest anywhere from $250,000 to $5 million, coming in at the seed stage or later-stage growth stage. With each investment, “We’re looking at how big the market opportunity is, the quality of the team and at the strength of the product and strategy,” Fernandes said. “Really, the focus of Simon Venture Group is to invest in the future innovation of retail, in-store and online. We’re focused on the convergence of physical and online retail.”Three more companies, selected from a separate contest staged by Simon held last year, will be added to the portfolio soon.Regarding the Future of Retail finalists, Fernandes said, “We’re not currently planning on investing in any of the companies in the top 10, and none are portfolio companies. But I can’t say if we will or won’t invest in any of them in the future.”The 10 finalists are:• MACK, which enables shoppers to shop for home furnishings directly from products pictured in professionally designed room settings, helping customers to shop fast and understand how products work together in the greater context of a space.• Two Tap, which enables third-party apps to streamline the checkout process.• Trendalytics, which distills social media to provide retailers and brands with insights on trends and products.• Pixlee, a content marketing platform that helps brands “collect, curate, display and measure the impact of customer photos from social media to improve marketing and e-commerce.”• MemoMi, a “digital mirror” that, with a wave of the hand or tap on a smartphone, allows shoppers to control and see back and side views of themselves, look at outfits from different angles and change outfit styles, sizes and color.• Tulip, which provides store associates with customer, product and store information through a native app on a tablet or smartphone, for better service.• Xyze, a technology that helps customers select the right sizes when shopping online by utilizing body measurement information.• Trustev, a technology geared to help stop e-commerce fraud with software that “can tell real buyers from fraudsters.”• Alive Shoes, which enables anyone to design and sell shoes online, by facilitating production shipping.• Bluefox, a technology that detects mobile phones so retailers can know who is visiting and have a better handle on traffic in the store.
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