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Bangalore: US-based retailer Target Corp. will leverage India’s fledgling start-up ecosystem and incubate dozens of technology firms over the next 5-10 years to better compete in the online space against the likes of Amazon.com Inc.
Target has picked information technology industry veteran Lalit Ahuja to run its new corporate accelerator programme that will incubate and invest in five start-ups specializing mainly in the mobile, social media and big data analytics space.
Ahuja has previously helped Target set up its multinational captive centre—an offshore business development centre—in Bangalore and managed a successful venture fund for media baron Rupert Murdoch in the late 90s.
Target’s India arm on Monday launched the accelerator programme in Bangalore, where it plans to incubate and provide mentoring to its first batch of five technology start-ups.
“Retailers are changing a lot. As we think of our evolution into a multi-channel retailer that serves our guests across brick and mortar, mobile and online, we need to recognize that we will need to innovate significantly,” Navneet Kapoor, Target’s India head, said in an interview. “And we recognize that innovation can come from both large and small companies, hence the desire to partner with the start-up ecosystem in India.”
The four-month programme will incubate four or five start-ups in the mobile, social media and big data analytics spaces at Target India’s Bangalore office.
Plans for the Target accelerator programme have been underway for over a year now. The application process and idea pitching sessions for the selection started in November-December.
The programme is also a departure from Target’s earlier association with India’s $118-billion IT industry, where over the past decade it has tapped into India’s abundant supply of engineering talent and outsourced back-office software application projects to IT services vendors such as Tata Consultancy Services Ltd and Infosys Ltd.
Target is one of the best-known retail chains in the US and now wants to compete in the online and mobile space with an increasing number of smartphone-savvy consumers preferring to shop online, which is dominated by Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer.
The first batch of its five incubatees are Turnaround Innovision, which enables rotating 3D images to display products on host websites; Konotor, which enables a two-way communication channel between the company and its mobile app users; MuHive Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which simplifies social conversations by providing a social customer engagement platform; UNBXD Inc., which enables personalized searches, product recommendations and better website navigation; Instaclique, by Nirmantra Technologies Pvt. Ltd, integrates social media conversations online to decrease website bounce rates and increase customer engagement.
“Unlike other accelerators, where we would have had to apply, they scouted for innovative technologies that were relevant to them, and got in touch with us. There were a few telephonic rounds with jury members, but that’s about it,” said Ritesh Nayak, co-founder of MuHive. “The future depends on how this pilot works...but if nothing, we would have gained experience with the second largest retailer in the world.”
Kapoor said Target had interviewed hundreds of start-ups before zeroing in on these five. “The criteria we used to select these five was relevance to our business or our needs—technology and business needs. And the teams from a talent perspective,” he said.
This is not the first accelerator programme to be launched by a multinational company in India. The past two years saw large companies like PayPal India, the online payment company owned by eBay Inc., and Microsoft Ventures in India launch their accelerators in Chennai and New Delhi, respectively.
A recent report in the New York Times newspaper said that even Coca-Cola Co. is setting up an accelerator programme in Bangalore, San Francisco and Berlin.
“This initiative by Target is of huge value to the Indian start-up ecosystem and I hope many other large companies emulate them,” said Sandeep Singhal, co-founder of Nexus Venture Partners. “For start-ups, having a large customer like Target to test their products early on and give iterative feedback can allow them to build a more market ready product in a shorter time frame.”