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Tech entrepreneur Stuart Marks teams up with John Lewis to find the next big retail startup

Written by Shawna Warmington-Brown Tuesday, 24 June 2014.

Retail giant John Lewis are clearly a company that understands that startups have the potential to shape the future, if the launch of their tech incubator - JLAB - last month is anything to go by. This initative was carried out in collaboration with serial tech entreperenuer and Angel Investor Stuart Marks, who was also on the panel to help pick the finalists.The finalists include Localz which allows retailers to know when their best customers are in-store, and Viewsy which allows retailers to track customer behaviour in-store in order for them to give individuals more unique and tailored services (see full list of finalists below).

The incredible prizes on offer include office space at highly-regarded tech-hub Level39, in addition to recieveing funding of over £12,000, mentoring and having access to John Lewis' technology. Following a 12 week incubation period, the winning startup (picked by JLAB) will have the unique opprtunity to test their product in John Lewis stores, as well as recieving an additional £100,000 investment. 
I spoke with Stuart to find out more about this exciting partnership, the disruptive trends he sees emerging in the digital landscape and where he got his start.
Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey? 
My journey as an entrepreneur started in 1990 when I was given the opportunity backed by family money to acquire a direct mail business.  I was working for a competitor of the business I acquired at the time and knew that this was my chance to break out on my own.  The Company went from almost zero to £8m turnover in three years and counted brands such as Sainsbury’s, British Airways and Unilever as clients.  Having sold the Company I then got involved in digital media very early on selling out to a major US advertising agency.  I then founded what became Europe’s leading traffic information provider, IT IS Holdings plc, which listed on AIM at the very height of the dot com boom.  Whilst we were fortunate to raise a large amount of money, unfortunately our share price suffered for a number of years after the market collapsed.  However we were able to build the business into the market leader and successfully sold the company in 2011.
JLABS is undoubtedly helping drive innovation in the start-up sector. What inspired you to partner with John Lewis?  
I met Paul Coby, CIO at John Lewis, by chance on a trade mission in May 2013 and at a follow up meeting was struck by his passion for innovation and the success that John Lewis had achieved in their approach to omni channel retailing.  As I had been running my own fund for nearly a year and had seen how start ups need the support of large corporates in commercialising their offering it seemed natural for John Lewis to take their approach to innovation into a structure like JLAB.
What exactly does the partnership with John Lewis entail?  
John Lewis and myself are sharing the costs and investments in the companies equally.  John Lewis are providing access o mentors from within their business whilst I am leading a team of external mentors.
Why do you think it’s important to give up and coming businesses the support they need?  
However good your technology is, without sales and an understanding of your customer, you have no business.  Through JLAB, we are going to demystify the process of dealing with a successful corporate like John Lewis and to teach companies how to ask for what they need and to turn that first meeting into a purchase order.
What has been the most exciting part of this partnership? 
Working alongside John Lewis and seeing first hand how they have embraced the omni channel and applying this and their thirst for innovation in selecting the finalists for JLAB.
What is a major disruptive trend for retail with respect to digital/mobile?  
This is hard to answer as there are so many trends that are capable of disrupting retail.  If I were to pick one, I would say because of mobile, retailers are better placed than ever to measure the effectiveness of everything that they do, right the way through the funnel. They are also better placed to create new, easy and delightful services that help customers find, acquire and maintain products. Hitting shoppers with the right offer at the right time, measuring shoppers activity in the physical world and tying it to marketing campaigns, bringing the point-of-purchase closer to the point of discovery and retargeting shoppers that don’t convert first time.
What are the key things you think a business needs to succeed?  
A business needs a strong management team, scalable technology, patient investors, supportive customers and luck.
List of finalists:






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About the Author

Shawna Warmington-Brown

Shawna Warmington-Brown

Shawna Warmington-Brown joined entrepreneurcountry in December 2013 as Global Content Manager. Her current responsibilities includes creating a monthly magazine and newsletter for investors and entrepreneurs in addition to managing a catalogue of leading entrepreneurial contributors, uploading content online and reaching out to the community via social media. Her interests include business, writing on current affairs and the arts.

Graduating from notable media and communications university The London College of Communication with a honours degree in Journalism, Shawna has also had experience working as a freelance journalist within a wide variety of media genres.

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