Target Startup Accelerator

One of the ways Target has chosen to pursue innovation is through the development of startups. This is a common strategy employed by companies looking to find the next technology, products and services to advance their initiatives and give them an competitive edge.  Accelerators by definition provide startups with mentorship, office space and often capital.
Today I had the opportunity to tour Target’s Startup Accelerator and meet Kirsten Nielson, director of innovation.  When asked why Target had chosen this path, reasons included:
  • Maintaining the pulse on retail innovations and innovators
  • Exposure to startups
  • An opportunity create the future of retail
Target selected Techstars Retail as their partner to drive the three-month intensive startup accelerator focused on bringing new technology, experiences, products, and solutions to retail. Techstars provides startup companies with funding, mentoring, office space, exposure and access to their worldwide network of entrepreneurs.  According to their website, this includes more than 2,700 investors, 1,200 alumni companies and 180 staff.
The Target Accelerator began in October when the application process opened.  In this case, Target cast a wide net.  They wanted to reach out to retail technology companies to see what they could attract.  Areas of particular interest were consumer products and consumer internet.  What they were not interested in selecting were companies just looking for distribution through Target.  The search efforts paid off with over 500 applications received from 45 countries.  The interview process ran from November to March and 10 companies were selected by June.  Companies that did make the cut, were provided feedback and in particular those that ranked 11-20.
The accelerator ran 13 weeks from June to September.  There are three phases of the program: (1) mentor and engagement feedback, (2) guidance on product and market fit and (3) preparation for fundraising.  Entrepreneurs were encouraged to share their biggest challenges so they can be connected to the right mentors.  Alignment of resources is a strategic priority.
The 8,000 square foot space dedicated to the accelerator initiative is located on the skyway level of 33 S 6th Street, connected to the Minneapolis City Center.  Work and meeting areas, internet and whiteboards are provided.
Atif Siddiqi shared the story of his company, Branch Messenger, and how he used the Target & Techstars program to build a business case. He leveraged the network to get feedback at every level at Target.  He then piloted his product in 10 Target stores to get key metrics.  Solving a problem for Target, they are now in 133 stores. Branch Messengers is an employee self-service platform that empowers hourly shift workers to manage their work lives in real-time and enterprises to instantly address staffing and operational needs at scale.
Speakers at this Product Development & Management Association (PDMA) sponsored event included:
  • Ryan Broshar, Techstars, managing director
  • Atif Siddiqi, Branch Messenger, founder and ceo
  • Kirstin Nielson, Target, director of innovation