West Stringfellow, EIR @ Target. Founded Techstars Retail Accelerator. Product alum @ Amazon, PayPal

Got a Retail Tech Startup? Target Wants to Hear From You

A few weeks ago, we teased that Target would be partnering with Techstars for a retail accelerator program in Minneapolis. Now – we’re off and running. Today marks the opening of the application process for Target’s new startup accelerator program, created in partnership with the pros at Techstars and led by Target Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) West Stringfellow.

We’re putting out the call to tech startups that are passionate about re-imagining the future of retail. That could mean new software that runs behind the scenes, a gadget we think our guests would geek out over, new technologies to help our stores serve guests even better, or… something we haven’t even thought of yet. Our team will evaluate the candidates and handpick ten of the most promising startups to relocate to Minneapolis next summer. They’ll be provided with finances, mentoring (including some of Target’s top execs) and all the tools needed to develop their business.

To learn more about the program, we sat down with EIR West Stringfellow, who forged Target’s partnership with Techstars:

You’re an Entrepreneur in Residence for Target. What does that mean?

Both parts of my job description are equally important. As an entrepreneur / intrapreneur, I’ve spent my career innovating and building new products and businesses at places like VISA, PayPal, Rosetta Stone and Amazon. The “in residence” part is key – I am a full-time Target team member with permission to do what I need to do to drive growth. And that’s really what it’s about. Target’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence have a singular goal of launching new businesses that grow Target. And we’re only successful if we can accomplish that mission.

Why Techstars? Why does it make sense for Target?

Techstars is an awesome company. They have an improbable success rate in selecting and accelerating startups. Harvard reports that only 25 percent of startups survive. However, the success rate of a startup that goes through a Techstars program is closer to 90 percent. It’s a proven model that works. On top of that, we want our teams here at Target to learn from and think more like startups. Startups are passionate, driven, and energetic – and it’s going to be great for Target’s culture to work side-by-side with other hyper-motivated creators and innovators.

What can startups expect to gain from this experience if they’re ultimately chosen?

Techstars’ success rate speaks for itself. The chosen startups will get mentoring and access to one of the biggest and best mentoring networks in the country. They’ll get the capital to turn their ideas into reality. And they’ll go through a proven process that helps them develop their ideas, get off the ground and start their company.

What does Target look for in a startup?

Team, team, team, what market the idea is targeting, what progress has been made, and the strength of the idea. Why is team there three times? It’s critical to success. A great team can change an idea and still succeed, but a mediocre team will struggle to execute on even a great idea. We look for people who can execute quickly, are coachable and listen well, are thoughtful but make fast decisions, are intellectually honest, are persistent, follow through and are insanely passionate about what they do. We’re looking for rock stars.

It seems like such an important part of this program is leadership and mentoring. Who are going to be Target’s mentors?

We have an awesome lineup of mentors, including Casey Carl, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer; Jamil Ghani, Vice President of Enterprise Strategy; Jason Goldberger, President of Target.com and Mobile; and me. Depending on the types of startups we bring in, we’re also looking for mentors outside of our tech and innovation teams who have the right expertise. Our goal is to align the startups with Target team members, the Target leadership team and external experts who have the greatest potential to help them.

What makes you most excited about the program?

Three things. First, I love working with startups and seeing their passion and excitement. Working in an accelerator program is a journey of incredible intensity and creation and I’m excited to be part of it. Second, at a corporate level, I love what it’s going to teach Target team members: that small, highly-empowered teams can achieve great things. And lastly, I can’t wait to see what this is going to do for the Twin Cities. Target is dedicated to developing a tech community in Minneapolis and this is one step in that direction.

In addition to the 10 startups, you’re also including one team from Target. Why did you decide to do that and what do you hope to gain?

We want to create the opportunity for Target team members to flex their entrepreneurial muscles, have a unique experience and then return to their roles having launched a new business. Team members who participate in the accelerator will have the opportunity to share their experience and learnings with the rest of Target and spread the knowledge. 

We imagine these accelerators can extend beyond the host company and into the local community. Is that a hope here?

Absolutely. Techstars’ success depends on that. Here’s an example: Techstars worked with Ford in 2014 as part of the Techstars Mobility Accelerator. The accelerator received applications from 42 different countries, half of the participating startups established a permanent presence in Detroit, and Detroit has now attracted Startup Next and Startup Week for 2016. We expect that our program and investment in Minneapolis will have the same impact. It’s an awesome opportunity for the city to unite. What makes Silicon Valley and other major tech hubs great are the people and the community. Target, Techstars and the Twin Cities have all of the tools to build a thriving community of innovation, entrepreneurship and technical innovation. We intend to make Minneapolis the capital of the Silicon Prairie.

Minneapolis isn’t known for its startup community (yet). As someone who relocated to the Twin Cities, do you have any words for entrepreneurs out there who might be considering the move?

Here are my best tips:

  • Do it! Minneapolis is a great place to live. It’s affordable, it’s a great place to have work/life balance, you can spend your summers on the lake, there are craft breweries with cheap beer everywhere and the city is filled with some of the friendliest people I’ve worked with and lived around.
  • There is a strong network in the Twin Cities that can help startups succeed. It’s home to several Fortune 100 companies and has more than a few universities that are developing great students and engineers.
  • Techstars has demonstrated over the past nine years that success is not about the location – it’s about the people and the community we are going to amplify over the coming years.

To apply for Target’s startup accelerator, click here. Target and Techstars will be accepting applications through March 2016.

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