The retailer’s innovation team has created its own start-up accelerator in partnership with Techstars and will also collaborate with MIT’s Media Lab and IDEO, a global design firm, to breed a new generation of start-ups.
Techstars, founded in 2006 to help seed and early-stage technology ventures, has invested in almost 500 companies to date. Target, along with Techstars, will spend the next eight months looking at retail-centric start-ups, led by Target entrepreneur in residence, or EIR, West Stringfellow. The application process opens today, and in June, the 10 most promising companies will be handpicked to spend next summer working out of the retailer’s headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn. Encouraged to use Target’s facilities to grow their companies into scalable businesses, Stringfellow said start-ups could range from “new software that runs behind the scenes” to a “gadget we think our guests would geek out over.”
As for Target’s work with MIT and IDEO, the multiyear partnership will focus on the future of food. The program has less of a retail technology slant and will deeply explore urban farming, supply chain and food transparency. Mapping billions of data points surrounding how the public talks discusses food — from social media to traditional messaging — will be key in mapping trends that will dictate the way food will be consumed and sold during the next 15 years.
Caleb Harper, director of the Open Agriculture Initiative at MIT’s Media Lab, said Target’s ability to scale, coupled with MIT’s research team, will help “democratize climate through control-environment agriculture.”
“People like to say things like, ‘the best strawberries come from Mexico.’ But really, the best strawberries come from the climate in Mexico that creates expressions like sweetness and color that we like,” Harper said.
In January a Food + Future coLab will bow in Cambridge, Mass., and will house teams working on the initiative from Target, MIT and IDEO.