Adidas's Station A startup accelerator space

PARIS — Adidas launched its start-up incubator, Station A, at Station F, the world’s largest start-up campus here on Friday. The sportswear giant has selected 13 young entrepreneurial companies in three domains to be involved in the program, in which it is investing 1 million euros.

As well as helping the start-ups selected to build traction, the firm hopes to learn from them and implement elements of their concepts with an open-source mind-set in order to ultimately build its own sales.

“We’ll give you the platform, we’ll give you the brief, but we need you to take it forward,” Adidas executive board member global brands Eric Liedtke addressed the start-ups at the launch event Friday afternoon. “It’s about how we can help you and how you can help us.”

Adidas selected the 13 companies from among 400 applicants with the help of U.S.-based innovation platform Plug & Play. Each fits into one of three areas that are strategically important to Adidas — improving the digital experience for consumers, leveraging the supply chain and global sales through digital and health.

“My expectation is that we challenge each other,” said Adidas senior vice president of digital Scott Zalaznik. “What I hope for every one of the 13 is that you can see that this was a pivotal moment for your company.”

Adidas is the first sports firm to offer a program at the campus, which partners with industry giants including L’Oréal, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton as well as tech heavyweights Facebook and Microsoft.

The companies selected include U.S.-based digital sports network Overtime; Hero, a shopping service that connects online shoppers with store associates launched two years ago that includes Harvey Nichols, LVMH and Levi’s among its customers; Running Care, a digital coach that helps runners prevent and treat running injuries, and Vekia, a France-based artificial intelligence company that helps firms optimize inventories and manage supply chains on a global level.

There was a high-profile mentor on hand to offer the entrepreneurs advice — Pharrell Williams, who began collaborating with Adidas in 2014 and is a longtime fan of the brand.

“When other brands were talking about other things, we were talking about inclusion and diversity, and I just feel like the empowerment that I’ve been able to experience here is what I want for all of you, you should feel empowered,” said Williams when he took to the stage. “Adidas is a brand of the people, because they recognize that at the end of the day, it’s the people that are the customers.”