John Lewis channels Dragons’ Den with new startup initiative

Retailer hopes partnership with startup accelerator TrueStart can help it remain innovative amid disruption from brands such as Amazon, Asos and Aldi.

john lewis

John Lewis is creating its own Dragons’ Den new business lineup in order to compete with Amazon, ASOS, Aldi and Lidl.

The British retailer is partnering with TrueStart, a startup accelerator and investment fund to create ‘The Eureka initiative’, which will allow startups within TrueStart’s portfolio to partner with John Lewis.

The collaboration will provide John Lewis with “a different way of thinking” and the group sees the move as an incentive to bring the best industry ideas to commercial reality. It will focus on personalisation, data analytics, health and wellness and the link between that and retail.

Although John Lewis sees this as an opportunity to share talent and to ensure it is at the forefront of industry developments, the new businesses in TrueStart’s portfolio will also benefit from access to the retailer’s 18 million customers.

Tom Athron, group development director at the John Lewis Partnership told Marketing Week:

“It’s about those moments, where suddenly you realise there is a whole new opportunity or a whole new world out there that you never knew existed.”

Tom Athron, group development director, John Lewis Partnership

Athron said that the Eureka Initiative was “borne out of the experience” John Lewis had with J Lab, its startup accelerator, which was designed to fast track the growth of startup companies. He said that J Lab “opened its eyes” to the value of forming relationships with businesses that are at the beginning of their life.

This latest move will focus on businesses that are at a slightly later stage than those with J Lab, ones that already have a customer base or a viable product up and running. He also said that the two partnerships will remain separate.

Channeling a “Dragons’ Den” theme of investing in new businesses, Athron said some of TrueStart’s startups have already been working with the retailer, including Photospire, a technology platform that enables retailers and brands to create real-time, personalised video content.

“We went from first meeting Photospire to having it presented to us as part of a Dragons’ Den style session, to applying it to the business within three weeks. Using startups allows us to move in an incredibly efficient way,” he said.

“It is more about exposing people in a large business to a new way of thinking. We have only been working with TrueStart for eight weeks and already I am seeing a change in language use and the way we are taking on new things.”

Athron believes that the partnership is needed at a time when retail is in a “challenging place, particularly for existing retailers”. He believes remaining innovative and disruptive is one of the big challenges for companies – both large and small.

“Amazon, Asos, Aldi and Lidl are all good examples of disruptive models. They don’t necessarily look disruptive from the outside, but they really are challenging the way in which existing businesses work,” said Athron.


To learn more about digital innovation, why not attend the Festival of Marketing, which is running on the 5 and 6 October at Tobacco Dock, London. For more information about the event, including how to book tickets, click here.



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