Target and Fast Company this week announced the launch of an accelerator for the purpose of stimulating innovation in the retail sector.

Target and Fast Company Launch Retail Accelerator Challenge


The aim of this initiative, dubbed Co.Labs & Target Retail Accelerator, is to encourage developers to create new mobile experiences for Minneapolis-based Target Corporation, the bricks-and-mortar and online retail company. Fast Company, a “progressive business media brand”, will chronicle the developers’ efforts on Co.Labs, the newest member of Fast Company’s Co. publications network, which focuses on new technologies. The two companies have joined forces in this partnership with a view to stimulating technological innovation in the retail sector. “Innovation is core to Target's culture and strategy, and we’re always looking for new ideas to enhance the shopping experience for our guests," explained Casey Carl, Target's President of Multichannel and Senior Vice-President of Enterprise Strategy.

From idea to implementation

Entries for the Retail Accelerator challenge can be submitted from 8 March to 30 April, including at the SXSW (South by Southwest® Conferences & Festivals, March 8-17, 2013) in Austin, Texas. In May a jury comprising directors from Target and Fast Company plus industry experts will announce the seven finalists. Each finalist will receive $10,000 to turn their proposal into a prototype and will work in liaison with Target to build and present a refined prototype. In July will come the announcement of the Grand Prize Winner, who will receive $75,000. Target will then work to bring the winning idea to life. When brands are seeking to innovate, many of them rely on R&D processes or sometimes look to their own staff to come up with ideas. An alternative is to go outside the company for inspiration. This latter strategy is the one Target has adopted, in this case by financing a startup accelerator.

External ideas fuelling internal innovation

And this is certainly an approach which brands that are keen to engage more closely with their customers and want to make use of technological innovation should consider nowadays. For example, Nike held a ‘Nike Materials Index Hackathon’ in Portland, Oregon in May 2012 in order to check with its fans on the durability of its products.  This type of event doesn’t just engage with customers, it also helps to obtain feedback on who exactly is using your products. Meanwhile, some companies have gone the other way, setting up their own in-house innovation processes. The retail giant Walmart is one of these: the company’s innovation lab, WalmartLabs, carries out research internally on disruptive strategies which might be applicable to the company.  Whichever way a brand chooses to go, it looks as if all these different initiatives are set to grow in number.