One is a twist on a wedding registry app that includes a blueprint of the couple’s home. Another is a wearable device that women can use to alert friends about where they are in case they are in danger.
They are among the 10 start-ups that are moving to Minneapolis for the summer to be part of the inaugural class of Techstars’ retail “accelerator” program, which will be housed at Target Corp.
The companies, chosen from more than 500 applicants, will take part in a 14-week boot camp during which they will receive mentorship from seasoned veterans, including Target executives.
At the end of the program, there is a chance Target will invest in some of the firms. But the Minneapolis-based retailer is using the program to learn how to bring a more innovative pace to its own culture.
“Everyone is excited to learn from these start-ups about how to get such big things done in a compressed amount of time,” said West Stringfellow, Target’s vice president of internal innovation. “Target needs a little more start-up inside of it.”
The program will likely provide a boost to the local technology scene. Some companies in other Techstars programs have moved to the city where they went through the process.
Techstars, a Boulder, Colo., firm, runs accelerators around the world to help entrepreneurs build businesses and help investors identify opportunities in rising companies.
The founders of the start-ups and their core teams are heading to Minneapolis later this week and will get started on Monday. They will set up in an 8,000-square-foot space that Target built in its City Center office. About 40 people in all, with two to seven from each company, are expected to spend the summer in Minneapolis to be part of the accelerator.
“The class as a whole is incredibly exciting,” said Ryan Broshar, the managing director of the retail accelerator. “We’ve got a very diverse makeup of founders and business models.”
One factor that went into picking the companies was trying to link start-ups that could benefit from learning from Target’s expertise. Two companies — MakersKit, which has already raised more than $1 million, and Revolar, which has raised $3 million — participated in previous Techstars accelerators, but their executives wanted to be part of this one because of the chance to work with Target.
Most of the selected start-ups hail from around the U.S. while two are international, from Hong Kong and Montreal.
One is a husband-and-wife team; another was founded by three brothers. Half of them have a female co-founder, an unusual metric in a male-dominated tech field.
Among those selected is Branch Messenger, a year-old firm of four employees based in Los Angeles. In November, it launched its smartphone app that allows hourly workers to swap shifts and message their co-workers. So far, Branch Messenger has taken a bottom-up approach, opening the app to anyone who wants to use it. But now the company also wants to get big corporate clients on board.
“Who better to learn from and understand the challenge of enterprise than from someone like Target?” said Atif Siddiqi, the firm’s chief executive.
He said it would be an added bonus if Target ended up deciding to use the app for its own workers.
And after the program is over, if it makes sense, Siddiqi would be open to relocating his business.
“From what I’ve heard, Minneapolis has a great growing tech scene,” he said. “It is a good place for a company like ours to be long term.”
Montreal-based MakerBloks rented a three-bedroom house near the University of Minnesota for its small team. The 2-year-old company has already done a Kickstarter campaign. This summer, it plans to ship its first batch of magnetic building blocks that teach children how to build circuits.
Francois Poirer hopes the Techstars program will help the company figure out how best to go about its distribution and marketing strategy as it looks to go global.
He figures the company will start with more tech-oriented and boutique toy retailers, especially since his products are pricier than the average toy, putting it out of reach of places like Target for now.
He said the firm’s goal is to learn from Target’s expertise in the toy market. “Target does such a great job in talking to parents and to families,” Poirer said.
In addition, Good & Gather, an idea at Target for a new food brand that more prominently highlights ingredients on the packaging, was picked to be an in-house participant in the accelerator.
It came out of the retailer’s Food + Future coLab in Cambridge, Mass., which is looking at various ways to increase food transparency.