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07/27/2022

Pitch and Accelerator Programs: How Retailers Like Lowe’s and REI Are Tapping Into Product Innovation

Liz Dominguez
Managing Editor
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Retailers are constantly battling it out, on the lookout for the leading edge brands that will resonate with consumers’ ever-shifting needs. That’s why several companies such as Lowe’s and REI are tapping into innovation by putting out a call — via pitch events and accelerator programs — for emerging brands who are looking to disrupt the industry.

Lowe’s is launching “Into the Blue,” a product pitch event that will allow entrepreneurs and businesses of any size to apply for a chance to participate in an inaugural live event for a chance to win a $5 million investment in purchase orders from Lowe’s. Additionally, the winning products will be featured across the company’s more than 1,700 retail stores and online at Lowes.com. 

"’Into the Blue: Lowe's Product Pitch Event’ gives entrepreneurs the chance to take their business to the next level," said Bill Boltz, executive vice president, merchandising, Lowe’s. "We are inviting businesses of any size to apply for ‘Into the Blue’ because the more innovative products we uncover, the more solutions we can provide to our customers to make their homes and lives better." 

Running through Aug. 14, the pitch event invites select businesses to speak directly with Lowe’s representatives and executives on Nov. 2-3 at the new Lowe’s Tech Hub, opening this fall and located in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

The event will also include networking, a supplier fair, and main stage and breakout sessions. Participants will be able to attend educational sessions where they can learn how to scale their operations. 

Suppliers who are selected to attend will be notified by early September. 

"Lowe's began as a small business more than 100 years ago, so we understand what it means to help a business succeed and the benefits it brings to their communities," said Sarah Dodd, senior vice president, global merchandising, Lowe’s. "We look forward to helping these businesses, especially often overlooked entrepreneurs, on their journey to be featured at a big box retailer."

REI Paves a Similar Path

REI Path Ahead Ventures, in partnership with R/GA Ventures, is launching a new accelerator program, Navigate, with an inaugural cohort of six companies. Across 16 weeks, participants will attend in-person and online events and receive funding, mentorship, curated programming, and access to REI’s production, distribution, and marketing guidance. 

Participating companies will receive a $25,000 equity-free grant as well as access to additional equity funding opportunities from both Path Ahead Ventures and R/GA. They may also be eligible to be featured in REI stores and online. 

Additionally, Navigate will connect founders to a network of peers, mentors, and industry experts to support their growth. They will provide leadership and life coaching to support mental and emotional well-being; connect them with experts who will teach courses, provide workshops, and mentor in sustainability, production, wholesales, and marketing; and provide access to Path Ahead Ventures and R/GA entrepreneurs in residence who will have office hours throughout the program for guidance.

Path Ahead Ventures partners with founders of color as they further their growth in the outdoor industry. Navigate is part of its $30 million commitment launched in October 2021 to partner with Black, Indigenous, Latina/o/x, Asian American and Pacific Islander founders as they launch and scale their businesses in the outdoor industry. 

"Our Navigate program uses the substantial internal resources of REI and our external industry networks to support and mentor this unique group of founders," says Dan Kihanya, director of REI Path Ahead Ventures. "We're excited about the products and perspectives they are bringing to the industry and look forward to partnering with them for their continued success throughout the program and beyond."

Other Retailers Are Leveraging These Opportunities 

The strategy is not new to the industry, it is however being utilized more often. Macy’s retail development program — The Workshop at Macy’s — recently picked back up, providing up-and-coming businesses with tools, education, and support to help them get started and sustain growth. The program kicked off with 25 new entrepreneurs who committed to participating in a five-week program — in both in-person and virtual events. It ran from April 25 to May 28 and featured new classes like Strategic Sourcing and Pitching for Funding. 

Additionally, Walmart first launched Circular Connector in April 2022, and the public initiative hoped to connect Walmart and anyone looking for solutions with sustainable packaging innovations. Now the company is accelerating this search by collaborating with the U.S. Plastic Pact to launch the Innovation Awards, which inspires new solutions and provide innovators with a platform to test their ideas. 

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