LONDON: Marks & Spencer, the UK retail giant, has launched a joint venture with the Founders Factory, a startup accelerator, which will focus on investing in startups in the retail space.

This is according to TechCrunch, which reported that M&S would become Founders Factory’s exclusive UK and European partner. Not only is the venture designed to give the retailer a foothold in promising new companies; it will expose the company to “technologies, business models and entrepreneurial thinking”, a spokesperson said.

The move aligns with overtures made at the company’s AGM earlier this month. Despite the retailer being the English football manager Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat-maker of choice, the company has suffered from an outdated model in a totally different environment.

Speaking at the meeting, held at Wembley Stadium in London, M&S CEO Steve Rowe noted his company’s problem: “We are not digital in an age where most retail starts with a mobile phone.” Rowe added that M&S would be taking measures to prepare the company for the long-term.

“Results in the next two years are not the most important thing,” he told investors. “We’re here to deliver a profitable business going forward.”

In May, faced with a long list of failures, including warehouse deficiencies, confusing ranges, complaints of overpricing, and sloth in reacting to changing consumer habits, the diagnosis led to a prescription of culture change.

The joint venture with Founders Factory will go some way to help the company solve its ‘burning platform’ woes. “Partnering with Founders Factory as their exclusive retail partner gives M&S access to a global network of start-ups and entrepreneurs which will provide disruptive thinking and questioning to the way we work at a time of critical transformation within the business”, said Steve Rowe.

Founders Factory Co-Founder and Executive Chair, Brent Hoberman added that “after over 60 investments in the last two years we have seen the huge potential of combining startup innovation with corporate scale and expertise, and so we are excited by this new chapter in a sector that is changing rapidly through technology.”

Explaining the structure of the new venture in an interview with TechCrunch, Hoberman said, “this is a bespoke program with a full-time team of 60 operational people to help. It’s a very different model from the likes of Techstars or Startup Bootcamp, for instance.

“It has full-time employees and multiple corporates. We have seven corporate backers with shared equity, then on top have WPP’s Wunderman agency. I think this is a globally innovative model. We didn’t copy this from the US.”

Sourced from TechCrunch, Financial Times