START ME UP: Marks & Spencer is embracing the future with a joint venture aimed at finding and developing retail start-ups. M&S has teamed with Britain’s Founders Factory, a well-funded incubator for start-up businesses, on the project.
M&S said Monday the partnership will give it “direct access to cutting-edge technologies” through investment in talented entrepreneurs and businesses. M&S will become the majority shareholder in the JV, which wants to build a portfolio of investments that it will seek to grow and scale.
The retailer will become Founders Factory’s exclusive U.K. retail partner, and invest in a number of start-ups that will be sourced through Founders Factory’s global network.
M&S said it’s looking to discover new technologies, business models and entrepreneurial thinking as it seeks to put digital at the heart of its transformation strategy.
Steve Rowe, chief executive officer of M&S, said he’s hoping the start-ups and entrepreneurs “will provide disruptive thinking and questioning to the way we work at a time of critical transformation within the business. By investing in new innovative technologies and products we hope to change the way we work and operate.”
Founders Factory was cofounded by Brent Hoberman, who started Lastminute.com, and is focused on launching and scaling start-ups across a range of sectors.
Hoberman, whose title is executive chairman of Founders Factory, said the organization has witnessed “the huge potential of combining start-up innovation with corporate scale and expertise, and so we are excited by this new chapter in a sector that is changing rapidly through technology.”
In its quest to prioritize digital sales and operations, M&S has also recently formed a strategic partnership with Microsoft, which is testing the capabilities of technology and artificial intelligence in a retail environment.
Both digital projects are the result of a five-year plan set out in November aimed at making M&S more nimble and profitable, keeping up with consumers’ demands and burnishing the brand.
Founders Factory, meanwhile, said it creates 13 new start-ups and invests in 35 start-ups every year. It has backed and built more than 60 companies, with that number set to reach 245 within five years.
The company invests cash, offers six months of bespoke support from the team and provides commercial opportunities with its investors. Founders Factory has received investment from L’Oréal, EasyJet, Guardian Media Group, Aviva, Holtzbrinck and CSC.