Waitrose has joined John Lewis' start-up accelerator, JLab. The start-up programme, run in association with L Marks, is looking for companies to apply for its fourth JLab accelerator which this year will focus on customer experience.

Between five and 10 start-ups will take part in the 12-week programme, which starts in July. The companies will work with John Lewis and Waitrose, receiving support from mentors, as well as workspace in the John Lewis head office in Victoria and Waitrose’s head office in Bracknell.

The start-ups will also have access to capital provided by the John Lewis Partnership and L Marks. Each company can apply for funding of up to £100,000 from a total microfund of £200,000, in exchange for equity in their business.

"Industries are being disrupted almost overnight and retail technology in particular is evolving at a rapid pace," said Paul Coby, CIO at John Lewis Partnership. "JLab enables us to augment our understanding of innovation and partner with these disruptors to offer the next generation of customer experiences. Waitrose involvement in JLab means we can now provide start-ups with unprecedented access to two of the UK’s leading retailers and ensure we add value to these fledgling companies, in the same spirit of cooperation the John Lewis Partnership was founded on."

Stuart Marks, technology entrepreneur and chairman of L Marks, added: “JLab has become one of the best and most advanced retail accelerator programmes, attracting hundreds of hopeful entrepreneurs from around the world. At a time when most large companies are seeing disruption all around them, the John Lewis Partnership has willingly opened up its entire business up to assist and develop startups. We are excited to have Waitrose join the programme and bringing with it their unique grocery related categories. We expect this to be our best JLab yet.”     

JLab 2017 is focused on enhancing customer experience. Start-ups wishing to apply must fit into one of the following categories:

"Amazing Food Experiences:  There is a growing potential to enhance customer experience in food shopping and food service. We are looking for start-ups which will help us serve food to our customers in more convenient, exciting and innovative ways.

Amazing Store Experiences: We want to partner with start-ups to make in store experiences even more inspiring and individual.

Effortless Shopping: We’re looking for solutions that create frictionless on and offline shopping for customers; start-ups who can help us enhance shopping experiences and save our customers time.

Help Me Live a Healthier Life: We want to help our customers to live well when it comes to their food and lifestyle. We want to find innovative health and wellbeing solutions that can be implemented across online channels and in store.

Smarter Supply Chain: We want to hear from start-ups who have innovative ideas, or solutions to disrupt traditional supply chain practices, from last mile deliveries and farm to fork traceability to smart product IDs and Internet of Things.

Surprise us - Innovations that are so out of this world they can’t be classified."

Applications are open now until midnight 30 April. John Lewis Partnership and L Marks will then select five to ten start-ups to complete the 12 week JLAB programme, commencing in July 2017. The final winner will be announced at a showcase event in September 2017.