New York Fashion Tech Lab begins its third class today, this time focusing on women-led fashion technology firms and including new mentoring partners, such as Microsoft Corp.

The early-stage, start-up accelerator — the program is 12 weeks long — is funded mostly by retailers, with some backing from Springboard Enterprises and the Partnership Fund for New York City. This year’s class will take up residence at Bene Rialto, New York City’s first retail incubator and coworking space at 13 West 38th Street.

Returning to mentor this year’s class are Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Kate Spade & Co. and Alex and Ani. New mentors include Halston and Kohl’s. In addition, this year’s class will have Microsoft Corp. participating as the accelerator’s first technology partner.

The women-led start-ups participating in this year’s class include Closet Collective, Elemoon, Fittery, Genostyle, Smartzer, Siren, Claire and Thursday’s Finest.

Kay Koplovitz, NYFT Lab cochair, said, “It’s exciting to be growing year after year in terms of the reach and participation from returning and new companies.”

The participation of Microsoft underlies the growing importance of fashion and technology. According to Koplovitz, Microsoft’s interest in fashion and technology ranges from the technological evolution in the retail business to the wearable technology component. “They are also interested in the underlying technology of predictive analytics. That’s still a big challenge for most retail brands internally in how they have their systems talk to one another.”

Arthur Lewis, Kohl’s executive vice president for product development, said participation in the program allows “us to tap fresh thinking from this talented group of start-ups, while helping advance their businesses, and puts fashion at the center of innovation.” His colleague Ratnakar Lavu, chief technology officer, added, “To stay relevant in the industry, retailers need to constantly innovate. The collaboration with NYFT Lab complements and expands upon the work done at our Silicon Valley office with the start-up community there. It’s a natural fit as we seek out the forward-looking technologies that have potential to come to life for Kohl’s customers.”

Mary Beech, chief marketing officer at Kate Spade & Co., said of her firm’s third tour of duty as mentor: “We are always looking for innovative ways to include new technology to deliver on our customer-centric brand promise, which is about inspiring our customer to lead a more interesting life. The opportunity to work with mentees in the digital technology space…ensures we’re seeing the latest and greatest in the world of digital technology and that we’re seeing it first.”

The accessories firm is still in periodic contact with past mentees, and has had conversations with participating firms in the program that it did not mentor.

The program is serving as a good introduction between retailers, brands and tech firms. Nineteenth Amendment, a participant in the first class, is a marketplace for young designers who present collections in 19-day pre-sales. Once the pieces are sold, they are produced at U.S. factories, many in New York’s Garment District. The start-up linked with Macy’s to provide shoppers with exclusive first-access pieces from select collections. Last month the two teamed up for an in-store digital trunk show during New York Fashion Week.