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Tech Bytes: Three Reasons to Partner with a Tech Accelerator


Target Corp., which has operated a proprietary innovation lab in San Francisco since 2013, is eyeing a more outward-focused approach to innovation. Target is partnering with startup accelerator Techstars to open a new retail accelerator program in its hometown of Minneapolis.

Not every retailer who partners with a startup accelerator creates its own program. But increasingly, retailers are turning to third-party accelerators such as Silicon Valley-based Plug and Play (a Chain Store Age media partner), as well as to internal innovation labs, to stay on top of the latest and greatest technology developments. Here are three reasons this is a good idea:

The Vision Thing

Proprietary innovation labs are a great tool for developing pre-customized solutions that can provide a substantial competitive edge, without having to worry about fitting them to your specific needs or getting beaten to implementation by a rival.

However, in-house innovation labs can also produce a level of tunnel vision, as any solution produced will inevitably bear the hallmarks of your corporate culture. If your company has always viewed investments in store associate technology as producing dubious ROI, your innovation lab will probably not produce exciting new employee tablet solutions that could greatly improve the in-store customer experience.

In contrast, third-party accelerators bring in startups from all over the country or even world, with a much wider range of solutions not hemmed in by any limitations of vision specific to your company. Supplementing internal “skunk works” operations with this more open and unpredictable range of technology can only strengthen their results.

Third party vetting

Retailers are certainly free to go and investigate outside startups on their own. But locating and vetting the ones worthy of your attention is a time-consuming and costly effort. A qualified accelerator handles the bulk of the vetting for you.

Not every startup at every accelerator is right for every retailer. But by the time a retailer sees a demonstration from a startup at an accelerator, they can rest assured it is a legitimate company with some good ideas.

Deeper talent pool

In addition to providing a wider range of technologies, accelerators also expose retailers to a much deeper talent pool than they have in-house. No matter how many “rock stars” your IT department employs, no one company can employ all the best talent.

Furthermore, a lot of the best tech people nowadays simply will not work for someone else. They also may lack a college (or even high school) degree, shutting them out of contention for hire at many retailers. These unconventional innovators found startups that can be discovered by working with an accelerator. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are just a few household technology names that could not have gotten hired at numerous major retail IT operations early in their careers, due to lack of academic credentials.

A proprietary innovation lab is still a great thing to have. To truly maximize your ability to discover and develop innovative, leading-edge technologies, don’t overlook the potential held by tech accelerators.

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