New York Fashion Tech Lab is gearing up for its fourth annual accelerator program.
The 12-week program begins today and ends June 14, when the program holds its Demo Day at Time Inc. The Lab is “in residence” at Spring Place.
The accelerator — a collaborative effort between major fashion retailers and serial technology entrepreneurs — was launched in 2013 to promote innovation in the fashion industry, and focuses on firms that intersect fashion and technology. There’s some venture capital financing from Springboard Enterprises and the Partnership Fund for New York City, but most funding is from within the industry. That also allows industry sponsors to learn about new tech ideas and work as mentors to further develop the ideas that they are most interested in.
Returning to the program are founding members J. Crew and Macy’s, as well as second and third year partners Bloomingdale’s, Kohl’s and Time Inc. Newcomers this year include luxury fashion e-tailer Matchesfashion.com and Vera Bradley. Microsoft Corp. returns for its second year as a tech partner, while innovation firm Flex joins for the first time.
Julie Larson-Green, chief experience officer at Microsoft, said her firm has been supporting NYFTL through its start-up evangelism program since the Lab’s inception. The company elected to become a tech sponsor last year and has worked with the Lab’s participants and with Springboard, connecting them initially with Microsoft’s engineers. “The program provides Microsoft engineering and other teams the ability to connect directly with founders, which influences how we think about our products in [our] Office Experiences Organization and we can share our perspective on their product from development through to delivery,” she said.
Larson-Green said this year’s initiative would expand beyond the engineering group to include the marketing team. “One big change for us [is] we are also going to do some smaller mentoring ‘master class’ sessions during the program,” she added.
Tom Chapman, chairman of London-based Matchesfashion, said he’s seen a number of changes within retail from brick-and-mortar to digital. He noted that the bulk of the Matchesfashion business is done via mobile, with 85 percent of revenues from outside the U.K. and the U.S. being its number-one market. The changing consumer preferences have him and his team on the lookout for new talent, both on the creative and technological side.
According to Chapman, his firm has connected with several entrepreneurs through the Lab, although not everyone is a participant in the current class. Matchesfashion will mentor two or three firms from the current class and reconnect with others later on. As for what start-ups are interesting to the e-tailer, Chapman said: “We’re thinking firstly how we can work with you to integrate what you’re doing into our business and how it benefits and supports you and how it would help our clients.” The chairman also said his company is looking at start-ups from the customer perspective, and not necessarily from a tech point of view.
This year’s class includes nine early-stage firms. Class members include: Awear Solutions, which tracks data analytics through interconnected devices — the process is called Internet of Things, or IoT — that gives firms post-sale product behavior to leverage repeat sales; E-Contenta, a personalized native ads platform that helps to improve the customer conversion rate; FindMine, a tech firm that scales outfitting across retailers and brands to help consumers complete the look, and Zeekit, a platform that allows fashionistas to virtually see themselves in new outfits and obtain sizing recommendations when shopping online.
Past participants include 2014 participant Trendalytics, a big data product intelligence platform, and from last year’s class Claire, a chatbot using artificial intelligence to test merchandise before it goes into production.
Karen Moon, chief executive officer and founder of Trendalytics, said her firm is now working with 27 customers, with about 10 who are large-scale global brands and retailers, and half on the Fortune 500 list. Alex and Ani and Li & Fung were its mentors during the accelerator program. It continued working with the Fung Group post the Lab program.
Moon said, “The [mentors] are open to sharing what problems they are having, and what they are looking for in tech solutions. That’s a shift from three or four years ago when many didn’t have time to speak with start-ups. The retailers and executives are realizing that they can build faster with a start-up, so they are telling us what they need and telling us what they want us to build up.”
Marta Jamrozik, cofounder of Claire, said her company has continued its work with Kohl’s Department Stores, a relationship that began through the Lab’s mentoring component. The company, which earlier this year raised $1.7 million in funding, also counts Rebecca Minkoff as a client. She added that the Lab continues to provide support for its alumni through panel discussions, networking and other post-Lab programs.
Separately, Springboard continues to act as a venture catalyst to accelerate the growth of start-ups led by women. The company more recently began working with Dell and Guggenheim Partners to expand its reach to Gothenburg, Sweden; Sydney, and Singapore, according to Kay Koplovitz, Springboard’s cofounder and chairman. So far 84 percent of Springboard’s portfolio firms have raised capital, and collectively have raised more than $7.4 billion. There have been more than 165 liquidity events, including 14 initial public offerings, Koplovitz said.