Defining start-up culture is hardly black-and-white. Applying what that means to an existing corporate culture? Even harder.

Many companies are pivoting in an effort to keep pace with a new breed of consumer and new generation of workers. For some, it’s driving innovation through accelerator programs. Others are focused on workforce development. There’s no template for what thinking like a start-up means, but here’s what some industry players are doing to remain relevant and compete:

Plug and Play — Fashion for Good Accelerator — Kering

Kering in March 2017 came on board as a founding anchor partner of the Plug and Play — Fashion for Good accelerator to help sustainable textile start-ups upscale their innovations.

After three months making their respective solutions market and investment-ready in Fashion for Good’s hub in Amsterdam, including mentorship and training by Kering and C&A senior management, participants including Agraloop, Amadou and MycoTex presented their developed business models to an audience of investors and corporate partners at a Demo Day event held in Amsterdam in late July. Select start-ups are eligible to receive between $25,000 to $75,000 in funding to support the scale-up of their sustainable innovations.

Whittled down from more than 200 applicants and a shortlist of 19, 10 newly selected start-ups from around the world will attend the next 12-week accelerator from September to December. They include Nature Coatings, specializing in high-performing bio pigments and finishes for textiles, and EON.ID, billed as the first global tagging system for textile recycling. —Katya Foreman

Materials Innovation Lab — Kering

Established in Italy in 2013, and focused on identifying new and sustainable fabrics, Kering’s Materials Innovation Lab boasts a comprehensive library of more than 2,000 certified fabrics. The lab’s in-house experts also offer support to the group’s brands and their suppliers so as to integrate these materials into their product offerings. Examples include organic cotton for Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, sustainable wool for Brioni, and cashmere for Gucci.

A second Innovation Lab is in the works for 2018, geared to offering the group’s watches and jewelry brands access to innovative sustainable production and sourcing technologies and solutions, such as lead-free enamel. — K.F.

Young Leaders Advisory Group — Kering

Due to launch in 2018, and working with Millennials from around the world armed with a “specific sensibility or knowledge on sustainable projects,” Kering’s Young Leaders Advisory Group will be geared at “stimulating innovation externally and internally,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability officer, who will handpick the individuals along with Kering chief executive officer François-Henri Pinault.

Comprised of six Millennials from within Kering and the group’s houses, and six external “young leaders,” the group will meet with and advise Kering’s executive committee on a recurring basis.

“It’s to have a cross discussion; it would be nice to also put in place a program, but to start with, it will be general exchanges to hear their feedback, and after it’s something we will build together,” Daveu said. — K.F.


Billed as a hub for the world’s innovators, tech-lovers and pioneers of the future, VivaTech, a three-day tech forum held each June in Paris, presents a curated selection of start-ups.

The most recent edition presented 6,000 start-ups and attracted 68,000 visitors, including 1,500 investors, with French President Emmanuel Macron among the VIPs. The LVMH Innovation Award also launched at the event, with 32 finalists exhibiting their solutions at the LVMH Lab stand, and Heuritech, a French start-up specializing in artificial intelligence image analysis, scooping the award. Jury members included Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president of retail at Apple Inc., and Daniel Zhang, ceo of Alibaba Group.

Ian Rogers, chief digital officer at LVMH, described the event, which is also open to the public for one day, as “this lightning rod” where major companies like LVMH or Orange “can get together and celebrate what’s happening in Paris and the start-up community broadly.

“It’s got this world fair kind of feeling to it,” he added. “To see 10-year-old kids make a start-up pitch is really moving, and that will definitely have an impact, at least a couple of those kids will be inspired to be a part of it when they grow up.” — K.F.


DARE LVMH — short for Disrupt, Act, Risk to be an Entrepreneur — an internal start-up style initiative launched by LVMH in July, is aimed at encouraging the group’s staff to think like entrepreneurs.

The inaugural three-day edition gathered 60 LVMH employees from 40 of the group’s houses and based in 15 countries to develop pitches in a WeWork coworking space. They were whittled down from 500 candidatures sent in after a “call for ideas” made by the group to 4,000 of its collaborators.

Following a final pitching session, three teams were selected by the jury and will be mentored by members of the group’s executive committee to help bring to life their respective projects, with domains ranging from client services to retail concepts.

A green-oriented edition of the initiative, dubbed DARE Green, is slated to run Oct. 9 to 12 in Paris, tailing an event due to be held by LVMH on Sept. 19 and 20 marking 25 years of the group’s commitment to the environment.

“If you look at the LVMH Innovation Award and VivaTechnology, that was very much about the start-up ecosystem outside of LVMH. By definition, it was making sure that every start-up in our space is somebody that at least we are aware of,” said Ian Rogers, chief digital officer at LVMH. “The DARE LVMH initiative was the other side of the coin, it was internally facing; how do we make sure that our employees have that entrepreneurial spirit and are applying it inside of LVMH.” — K.F.

Target Takeoff

It’s go time for Target with the launch of its first-in house accelerator program in May called Target Takeoff.

The program, billed by the retailer as a mini boot camp for entrepreneurs, shows founders the ins and outs of the retail business during the course of a week at company headquarters. The inaugural class focused on sustainable products and community-minded companies. That group included modest activewear brand Asiya, natural deodorant maker PiperWai, beauty brand True Moringa and seafood company Salty Girl Seafood.

The launch of Target Takeoff followed Target’s partnership with Techstars last year for the Target + Techstars accelerator.

The retailer is thinking and moving at an accelerated pace with initiatives such as these, according to spokesperson Justin Barber, noting that the company took about a year to develop its children’s line Cat & Jack, while it’s already launched four new brands so far this year. — Kari Hamanaka

Sephora Accelerate

Sephora’s always prided itself on being close to the start-up community, so starting an accelerator didn’t seem like much of a stretch.

“One of the unique pieces of our history, especially here in the Americas, has been our work with entrepreneurs over the years from our beginning really,” said Corrie Conrad, senior director and head of social impact and sustainability at Sephora.

Sephora Accelerate, which is part of the company’s broader social impact efforts under Sephora Stands, serves as a weeklong boot camp where a group of founders come to San Francisco for mentoring, networking and potentially funding following the conclusion of the program’s demo day. Last year’s cohort hosted eight entrepreneurs with this year’s class totaling 10. The plan is to host one boot camp annually with the five-year goal of helping 50 founders.

“It’s not just about a feeder program for Sephora. We love it when that can happen, but this is more about addressing an inequality we saw,” Conrad said of the program’s impetus, referencing a desire on the part of the retailer to help boost the number of female entrepreneurs in the industry. — K.H.

Gap Inc. Customer and Strategy Team

Any possible point where the customer might cringe? That’s what Gap Inc. hoped to eliminate with the creation of its Customer and Strategy Team last year, said Sebastian DiGrande, executive vice president of strategy and chief customer officer.

The formation of the group, which pooled existing activities such as data and analytics and e-commerce operations under one umbrella, was aimed at fostering a more innovative culture across the company’s brands in a bid to elevate the experience for customers.

“You can call it personalization, but it is really across all touchpoints,” DiGrande said of one of the team’s overarching objectives. “Rather than transactionally touching [customers] once or having them buy a product from us once and then the next time they visit, it feels like the first time again, what is everything we can do to make them feel special?”

The group runs off a “test and learn” mentality, common in the start-up tech world, but not so much in traditional fashion and retail. It entails rolling out programs — such as native apps for Gap Inc. brands or piloting a babyGap outfit subscription box — to figure out what sticks and what doesn’t and then either iterate or move on quickly.

“There are a lot of things we have going on in the spirit of test and learn,” DiGrande said. “The whole point is building this testing capability and infrastructure behind it and we are now able to run dozens of simultaneous tests across the company in different parts of the business that are helping us accelerate progress like we have never seen before.” — K.H.

TechStyle Fashion Group Innovation Speaker Series

Challenge traditional ways of thinking and change can happen. That’s driving the Innovation Speaker Series at TechStyle Fashion Group.

The most recent iteration of its series for employees brought together Google and the Clinton Foundation to spotlight female leaders during an event at TechStyle’s El Segundo, Calif., headquarters.

“We’re a young company and we really are putting a lot of effort into trying to create a happy workforce and as inspired a workforce as possible,” said TechStyle corporate marketing officer Shawn Gold. “It is a new way of thinking that’s not that innovative in the tech world, but in the traditional business world it seems excessive on the surface. It’s actually extremely fiscally responsible when it comes to productivity and longevity.”

The speaker series is paired with a number of other initiatives that have helped create a culture TechStyle said is fostering ownership in the company and creating a corporate brand around innovation. Those other initiatives include RISE sessions where executives within the organization provide mentorship and talks about their respective roles at the company along with Tuesday meetings for all staff to talk about key performance indicators and general business updates. There’s also a sprawling headquarters campus in El Segundo that includes a subsidized restaurant, bar, gym, yoga classes and quarterly company-wide parties. — K.H.

Wal-Mart’s Store No. 8

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. didn’t just pay lip service to thinking like a start-up when it unveiled its incubator program Store No. 8 in March. The retailer has moved very quickly since.

The following month, the program — named after the store Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton used as a testing base — tapped Rent the Runway cofounder Jenny Fleiss to join as cofounder and ceo of Store No. 8’s first portfolio company, called Code Eight. The start-up, disclosed in May and still in stealth, aims to up the ante on personalized shopping using artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Store No. 8 in July teamed with Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global for a virtual reality competition called Innov8: V-Commerce. Judges included Huffington, Wal-Mart e-commerce U.S. president and ceo Marc Lore and Forerunner Ventures founder and managing partner Kirsten Green. The winning group, which will receive funding and mentoring, was revealed earlier this month and included 8i, Fyusion, Obsess, Nurulize and Specular Theory. Their technologies will be on display at the Innov8 Gala in Los Angeles Oct. 18. — K.H.

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