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The way we shop is changing. Retail is changing. M&S is changing. 

And as we transform our business, there are new kids on the block at M&S. 

We are working with a new wave of start-ups and entrepreneurs that are helping our colleagues think differently about retail. AI, machine learning, automation, robotics – they’re all on the pad and being embedded into the way we think, plan and execute our business today and tomorrow.

At this stage, much of this work is happening behind the scenes. However, this week saw a very public show and tell of the work we are doing with D2C (direct to consumer) brands through our digital partnership with Founders Factory.  

Pitched in the heart of Covent Garden, 10 businesses took part in a retail and beauty pop up with shoppers, big brands and investors streaming through the doors to give new look products and services the once over. 

Three companies were there that we have invested in.  

Charged-Up (coming to M&S stores this summer!), a mobile phone battery sharing service that has a network of vending stations across London. In an age when almost every shopping trip involves a mobile phone in some way, we love this brand and how they keep customers’ phones fully charged whilst they are on-the-go. 

Texel, a digital fit company that scans, captures and measures people in 3D before recommending clothes that will best fit a customer’s shape and size. The technology is opening up many exciting routes for us, giving M&S the tools to test and trial new ways to inspire customers. 

And Rocketo. A personalised, subscription-based healthy dog food company. Subscription e-commerce has rocketed (no pun intended) by more than 100 percent a year over the past five years in the US (McKinsey report) and therefore working with Rocketo helps us gain insights into the model and how personalisation is layered on top. 

Our investment is helping all three scale. Founders Factory’s gold-star accelerator programme teamed with M&S experts, data and customer insight creates a recipe for success that helps entrepreneurs launch their business at a velocity most start ups can only dream of. We will invest in six businesses a year for three years, so expect more to come.    

For us, having access to start ups like this is hugely beneficial. It accelerates our culture change and puts digital innovation at the forefront of our thinking. In some cases, the entrepreneurs are taking a business from conception through to market in less than six months. It’s a pace corporates could never match. 

A recent Deloitte survey found that 76% of companies say start ups trigger innovation within their business. We agree with the 76% and, as long as you work hard to ensure innovation does not become a theatre-piece, then investing in and co-creating with start ups can transfer some of that entrepreneurial pace into big corporate businesses. Something that’s essential as we transform into a digital first retailer.