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Women Entrepreneurs – New Startup Trend: Ravi Kanniganti

Exclusive interaction of Ravi Kanniganti, Director of innovation, Target with BW.

How and why did Target start the Accelerator Program in India? How does it work (step by step procedure)?

We launched the Target Accelerator Program in January 2014. It is a four-month initiative, where startups have access to a variety of resources to develop their business ideas. The startups are provided the opportunity to pilot their ideas and are mentored by business leaders within Target. At the end of four months, each startup will have an opportunity to present their business case to Target leaders, investors and others. 

Startups can apply to our program by writing to our accelerator team on accelerator@target.com. They are selected based on their capabilities and ideas, and how this will help enhance the experience of our guests (customers). The startups are given the opportunity to work on real business cases and test their solutions in Target’s retail environment, with hands-on guidance from Target mentors. Based on the success of the solution, the association with the startups can extend beyond the four months.

What major challenges do you face or have faced running the Target Accelerator Program?

Often, startups come to us with a great idea or solution. But implementing it to scale in a way that is useful for a large organization requires a lot of work. It involves initiating the startup to Target’s ways of working and guiding them to help remove roadblocks. That is where mentors play an important role. They serve as a catalyst and are key to the success of startups during the program. They work with the startups to transform the solution or idea. Mentors are also able to connect the startups with other business teams to help look at the solution holistically.

Do you observe any changes in the startup ecosystem in India, in terms of business ideas and forming structures? 

Over the last five years, the startup environment has evolved and matured greatly. The Indian Startup ecosystem is the third largest in the world. Indian entrepreneurs are building world-class technology startups, attracting global investor interest and churning out successes and unicorns at a rapid pace. Geographical boundaries no longer exist for startups. Startups in India are making an impact with customers at a global level. Take for instance some of our graduates from TAP who have moved their office to the US to solve problems for that market.

Women entrepreneurs have also started becoming more prominent in the innovation economy. We are seeing this trend more and more as we work with new startups part of the accelerator program. For instance, Moodboard, a startup that was part of batch 6 of Target Accelerator, is founded and run by a women entrepreneur.

The key growth drivers for startups over the last few years have been enterprise software, fintech, healthtech marketplace and edtech. Data analytics, artificial intelligence and IoT startups have been witnessing fastest adoption across industry verticals. 

What kind of start-ups Target selects for the Accelerator? Are they from any particular area like AI, Data Analytics etc? 

Target is looking for startups that have the ability and ideas that help advance the global retail industry. It is ultimately about enhancing the shopping experiences of our guests now and in the future. We are not focused on any particular technology area. Being a large organization, startups have a canvas of opportunities across multiple areas such as Store operations, Finance, Marketing, Digital and Item, vendor management and other areas.

Are they all retail-based? What are the technologies that Target is interested in?

We are looking for startups across the ecosystem that can help advance retail and enhance guest experience. They may not always have technologies or solutions that are targeted to the retail industry but are transferable across industries. Take for instance our engagement with StylDod, one of the startups that graduated from Batch 6. The startup provides a tool that helps autogenerate 3D floorplans created specifically to make a 3D designer’s job easier. Target is working with the startup to enhance the 3D experience that we provide to our guests.

Name some of the start-ups you have worked with in the past and how the program has benefitted them in the long run?

In the last four years, we have worked with 36 startups across 6 batches. During the four months, the startups receive mentorship, tools, resources and operational support – as well as a workspace at Target’s Bangalore offices. The program provides startups a platform to develop mature products that can be scaled eventually. This also gives us early access to the technology and helps spur innovative solutions that will ultimately benefit our guests. Let me give you two examples:

StoryXpress: StoryXpress is a cloud-based video creation platform that converts raw data such as images, text and small video clips into high-quality videos. They were selected to be a part of Batch 4 of the accelerator program.

Through the program, StoryXpress got the opportunity to test their solution. They were mentored and trained by the leadership team. This helped in validating the hypothesis that videos can drive higher engagement and sales on online platforms. Based on their success, StoryXpress was selected to be part of Target’s US-based accelerator – Target + Techstars. Apart from providing the opportunity to pilot the initial version, they had the opportunity to work in the U.S market.

Moonraft: Piktorlabs (erstwhile Moonraft) developed an AI-powered interactive, in-store digital shopping assistant which offers recommendations to shoppers across garments and trends. These recommendations are supported by a contextual social feed. They were selected to be part of Batch 5 of the accelerator program. The company was looking for a validation of the prototype of an AI-powered shopping assistant that could blend both, the physical and digital environments in a big data environment. They wanted to be a part of a retail-focused accelerator when they met Target. Through the Target Accelerator, Moonraft had the opportunity to be mentored by a globally reputed retail brand and convert an initial concept into reality. The program gave them access to a large user base and a reality check in terms of how the solution would work in a real-world environment.

How is the ‘Accelerator Program’ evolving and have you set any particular goals in terms of possibly expanding the scale of the program?

Innovation is core to Target’s culture and we will continue to look for new ways to enhance our guest experience. We will continue to build relationships within the Indian startup ecosystem. We are excited to see the innovation and fresh thinking startups will continue to bring to the table. Starting this year, we are moving away from a cohort-only model and will encourage an ongoing intake of startups. This will help both the start-up and our business teams to engage on immediate basis. This change in approach means more benefit for our businesses.

What has been the biggest learning so far?

We started on our journey with the accelerator program in 2014. As we conclude the sixth batch of our program, one of our biggest learnings is the power of open innovation and that great ideas can come from anywhere. We try to foster this culture across our business and that’s why we have now opened the opportunity to our team members (employees) by introducing the Team Member Incubator program. This is an immersive 8-week program during which selected team members can work towards creating products that enhance the guest experience, team member experience or Target brand. 


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