The Desigual headquarters in Barcelona.

Desigual is doing its part to help the next generation of entrepreneurs.

The Barcelona-based retailer has teamed with Plug and Play, an innovation platform that connects start-ups with established companies, to launch an accelerator program called Awesome Lab. This is the first program of its type to be backed by a Spanish fashion brand, according to the company.

Awesome Lab will offer emerging companies in product development, design and customer relations a financial investment, along with mentoring and other resources and tools to support their growth. The company is planning to invest around 15 million euros over the next three years in the program, a spokesperson said.

“Since our very beginning, we have been committed to innovation,” said Alberto Ojinaga, managing director of Desigual. “In 2019, we took the first step by committing to collaborations with artists and designers in the creation of our collections. With this initiative, we want to take this a step further and promote an innovation model that will allow us to incorporate the creative and enterprising spirit that lies beyond our organization and get closer to start-ups at an earlier stage so their technological solutions can be implemented in a more strategic manner in our own business.”

Between July 20 and Sept. 15, there will be an open call for start-ups to apply for the program. Plug and Play, which has invested in companies including Dropbox and PayPal, will then select 150 candidates whose proposals will be assessed by a panel made up of Desigual’s founder Thomas Meyer, members of its steering committee, Plug and Play executives and others in the fashion sector.

The panel is expected to select between five and seven projects to join the acceleration program, which will begin in September and run for between six and nine months. Throughout the run of the program, the chosen start-ups will receive training and support from internal mentors who are employees of Desigual, as well as external mentors considered experts and successful entrepreneurs in their fields. The brands will also be provided with financing, access to Desigual’s Barcelona headquarters, materials, key contacts and a network of suppliers and logistics services.

In addition, Desigual will also offer a Demo Day, where investors will be offered a chance to meet the start-ups, as well as an Innovation Day, where the start-ups can meet with experts in their sector.

Meyer said Awesome Lab will allow Desigual to use collaborations “as a key and differentiating competitive resource. The launch of Awesome Lab…allows us to get closer to technological innovations at an earlier stage, thereby facilitating a more strategic implementation of solutions and responding to the challenges we have set ourselves at Desigual regarding continued growth. At Desigual, innovation permeates everything we think and do, as well as the way we do it.

“We chose this open innovation format because we want to set ourselves apart, in terms of creativity and innovation, as a unique, different and relevant brand that provides a superb value proposition to our customers,” Meyer added. “This is a long-term project because it is part of our business model and corporate culture, and requires the involvement of everyone who makes up Desigual. An open innovation format like Awesome Lab allows us to create a greater flow of knowledge and integrate trends, new ideas and the latest technologies in a collaborative manner.”

Seena Amidi, managing director and co-head of Plug and Play EMEA, said Desigual is “one of the most prominent players in Spanish fashion and is perfectly aligned with our mission to create a smarter future. We believe that their disruptive and creative DNA, the brand’s relevance and its commitment to driving open innovation within the sector will underpin what will be a successful collaboration.”

Jaime de Borbón Dos Sicilias, director of Plug and Play Spain, added that the launch of Awesome Lab will also help solidify Barcelona as “an innovation hub.”