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Asos and Telefónica’s Wayra launch fashion tech accelerator

TechCrunch TechCrunch 3/05/2016 Steve O'Hear

Fashion retailer Asos already has its own corporate venture arm, the aptly-named Asos Ventures. And now the publicly listed U.K. company is getting into to the startup accelerator business with a new fashion tech program being run in partnership with (and by) Telefónica’s Wayra.

The 8 month-long accelerator, which will be housed at Wayra’s London base, is on the hunt for “mature startups with a proven track record” who play in the fashion tech and ad space, and who can potentially complement Asos’ existing online fashion retail business, helping the company improve the Asos experience of its 11 million world-wide customers.

And, like other Wayra-run accelerators, there’s also the possibility, where a strategic fit applies, to tap into Telefónica’s 300 million customer base, although your mileage in this regard will vary. Corporate accelerators have a habit of over-egging this aspect of the programs they run.

However, two recent example of where this has happened are RotaGeek and Qudini. Both Wayra-accelerated startups have had their wares adopted by O2/Telefónica, proving that the corporate model can work as advertised, and that when it does it’s win-win for the startups involved and the corporates hoping to stay relevant in the face of ‘innovator’s dilemma’.

Specifically, here’s how Asos’ Wayra-run program will work: Both Asos and Wayra will invest a combined £34,000 for an equity stake in the range of 5 to 10 per cent. Chosen startups will be housed at Wayra’s London academy where they’ll receive 8 months office space, mentoring and business development support. The latter will come via Wayra’s own staff and mentor network, as well as through high level support from Asos itself.

During a call, Director of Wayra U.K. Gary Stewart, told me that since Wayra/Telefónica’s primary business isn’t running accelerators for other corporates, the partnership with Asos had to have a strategic fit for both companies, in terms of the kind of startups the program is aiming to attract but also the mentoring and biz dev support Asos will bring to the table.

For example, he told me, it was important that products and services developed by accelerated startups can, where appropriate, be tested with Asos’ customer-base and that support will come from the very top of Asos. In other words, that this is about the development of actual and successful companies, not simply PR or ticking the innovation or social responsibility box for the corporates involved.

Stewart also stressed that in many ways the new program will run just like other Wayra accelerators, with the difference here being that it targets a specific vertical and has a second backer/partner in the form of Asos. Despite the fashion retailer talking up its own needs, in terms of how startups can help it better reach customers, there’s no prior requirement to work with Asos’ existing software stack. “We don’t play the API game,” adds Stewart.

That said, suggested areas where applying startups can bring value to Asos include: helping customers navigate its catologue of 80,000 products; new ways of thinking about search; tech to power outfit or style recommendations and personalisation; helping Asos’ product taxonomy work harder; making content shoppable; big data and NLP; and retail logistics and last-mile delivery.

It’s worth noting, however, that the program is ruling out startups in the wearable tech, 3D printing or fashion design space.

“Asos has always been known as a digital leader and this partnership will help us continue to serve the needs of our customers as they evolve,” says Cliff Cohen, Asos CIO, in a statement. “There are specific areas where we would like to accelerate innovation, but we are also excited to hear what ideas come back from the start-ups themselves. The potential here, for ASOS, our customers and the companies we end up working with, is huge and Wayra UK is the perfect partner to work with on this search”.

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