NYC Accelerator Looks Outside Industry to Solve Retail Challenges

Yes, there's an app for that, but if it's for a store, it's probably pretty lame, and you probably don't use it. And despite advances in wearable tech, mobile payment options and data's power to personalize, consumers still face impersonal interactions and cashier lines that haven't changed much in decades.

Meanwhile, Nest has elevated the once-pedestrian smoke detector and thermostat to interactive high art, and Uber riders can choose the music they want playing when their car arrives.

In response to this widening gap between what consumers expect and the shopping experiences and products the retail and consumer goods industry provides, Parsons School of Design, Harvard's i-lab and global management consulting firm Kurt Salmon are joining forces to create XRC Labs, a New York-based accelerator that unites entrepreneurs and investors to solve the biggest challenges—and unlock the next generation of opportunities—facing the retail and consumer goods industry.

"The shopping experience is still largely the same as it was when Selfridge opened the modern department store in 1909," says the accelerator's managing director, Pano Anthos, a serial entrepreneur and retail technology expert himself. "It's not a technology problem. It's a design problem. Retailers have the technology to personalize every consumer's experience and to form products that function like magic. They just haven't built much that consumers want to use."

XRC Labs addresses this gap. Its mission is to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurs and investors to rapidly design, launch and iterate retail and consumer technologies, products and services, all supported by hugely influential partners and advisors with deep roots in the retail and consumer goods industry.

"Our focus on creative entrepreneurship, coupled with our expertise in design, makes Parsons the ideal partner for XRC Labs," said Parsons' Executive Dean Joel Towers. "Good design drives innovation and is essential to creating products that consumers want. In the lab, entrepreneurs will learn how to leverage emerging technologies and processes to create a personalized consumer experience that will allow them to thrive in a global marketplace."

XRC Labs, for "accelerating retail and consumer goods innovation," will conduct a minimum of two ten-week sessions each year, with applicants drawn from a pool of entrepreneurs and innovators with a passion for customer experiences, brands and retailing. The accelerator will focus on omnichannel retail, product development and data science, exploring innovations that address such challenges and opportunities as loyalty, customer experience, geolocation, 3-D printing, crowdsourcing, personalization, consumer insights, the Internet of things and video analytics.

"Retail is happening everywhere, and it's changing the rules of the game. Design now trumps exclusivity. Data science now trumps ‘location, location, location,'" said Al Sambar, managing director at Kurt Salmon and head of the North America Retail and Consumer Practice. "XRC Labs is facilitating an industry shift equivalent to the move from nineteenth-century general stores to national department stores. The opportunities for differentiation are enormous."

Entrepreneur, investor and sponsor applications for XRC Labs' October session are now open.

"The retail and consumer goods sector is massive and warrants focused attention and ecosystems that only highly vertical accelerators like XRC Labs can offer," said Jodi Goldstein, managing director, Harvard innovation lab. "As with other accelerators, we are excited about its formation as a logical next step for alumni of our programs."
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