John Lewis has unveiled the first two mentors and judges for its 2016 JLAB start-up accelerator.

The department store chain has named the head of retail at marketing tech company Valtech, Kirstin Smith, and the CEO of Tech Will Save Us, Bethany Koby, to its line-up, which also includes members of the John Lewis IT and digital teams. Smith will judge the 'effortless shopping' category, while Koby has been tasked with casting her eye over the 'tech for kids' section.

Other categories for this year's JLAB include 'health & wellbeing', 'simplify my life' and 'surprise us', as the retailer looks for entries from a variety of tech start-ups that may have a concept that can transform the consumer experience in the years ahead. Mentors and judges will work with up to five chosen finalists over a 12-week programme to help develop their ideas and potentially bring the technology to market.

Applications for the initiative are open but will close at midnight on Sunday 8 May, with the finalists announced ahead of the start of the incubator scheme in July. The overall winner will be unveiled at a showcase event in September 2016.

John Lewis works with corporate innovation group, L Marks, for JLAB. L Marks is also teaming up with fashion retailer Topshop to run a wearable fashion technology start-up programme this summer, with Tech Will Save Us's Koby involved in that expert panel, too.

Paul Coby, IT director at John Lewis, said: "One of the unique characteristics of the JLAB programme is the breadth and depth of industry knowledge that our participants are given access to.

"We pair our mentors' speciality areas of expertise with participants' growth objectives, and start-ups benefit hugely from tapping into this commercial insight."

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