T-Jam 2017 dates announced!

Large retailer WLTM exciting, driven and creative start-ups, for collaboration and maybe more: perhaps even to create the next big thing in the retail space.

We at Tesco Labs are dying to hear your start-up or company’s idea for the next big thing in retail innovation…and what better time to hold our next speed-dating event than during London Tech Week?

We’re bringing our 2017 T-Jam event to our London offices in the Lever Building, 85 Clerkenwell Road, EC1R 5AR on Wednesday 14th June; and we want you and any start-ups wanting to pitch their idea to join us for an exciting afternoon of food, drink, and tech speed-dating!

Come along and speed-date your idea with senior Tesco product owners, technologists, and members of our multichannel leadership team. We’ll provide you with the chance to have your idea heard by Tesco people from across the business; to hear which problems at the top of our ‘to-solve’ list at Tesco; and to meet lots of interesting people.

Numbers are limited because of time constraints (we want to give each speed-dater the chance to meet as many Tesco people as possible), so please apply for a place here.

You have until Friday 2nd June to apply – what are you waiting for?

T-Jam 2016 – what went down

Our T-Jam event gives technology start-ups an opportunity to pitch their ideas to people from around Tesco in a fun speed-dating format.

Last week as part of London Technology Week we hosted another of our T-Jam events. T-Jam gives technology start-ups an opportunity to pitch their ideas to people from around Tesco in a speed-dating format. Everyone gets five minutes to pitch before moving on to the next table and doing it all over again. There’s also an opportunity at the end of the session to have a bit more of a chat with people you found most interesting.

The events are great for colleagues at Tesco as they can meet a lot of interesting and diverse companies in a short space of time. Not just in their area of expertise but in a broad number of areas.

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One of the start-ups said it gives them an opportunity to refine and practise their pitch as well as get a good variety of questions and feedback from the mixed background audience. Some of the attendees don’t even have companies yet, just ideas that they are working on which might become start-ups soon. Some wanted to talk about our developer APIs (Application Programme Interface) and ask about our IFTTT channel (If This Then That) and how they might be able to build apps that link into the Tesco ecosystem – this is really exciting as it gives us an opportunity to explore new ways of making the shopping trip that little bit easier (and fun!) for our customers.

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In the past we’ve gone on to put demonstrations from companies we’ve met at T-Jam into our Tesco lab and tested a couple on some of our websites so who knows what might happen with the companies that we met last week!

If you’re interested in applying for any future events then keep an eye on our Twitter feed.

Tesco Labs Developer Portal

We’re happy to be exposing our grocery product search functionality on the new Tesco Labs developer portal.

Sound interesting? Head on over to devportal.tescolabs.com where you’ll find all the details including how to sign up, documentation, and example code.

This is the first step on a roadmap that will see more of the services that we use internally, made public. The next step is to provide more extensive and detailed product information, including nutrition and ingredients as well as the full product catalogue, not just groceries. Then we’ll aim to add Tesco store locations, addresses and opening hours.

Beyond that, the roadmap also includes things like creating and modifying baskets and retrieving your order history.

If you’re planning on making anything using this and future APIs, or have any feedback let us know using the contact details below.

Don’t forget you can use IFTTT if you’d like to create and modify your basket using all sorts of custom triggers (including product price changes).

Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator

What caught our eye at the Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator event?

On Wednesday I went along to “The Pitch” at Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator which is the main event on the schedule of any tech accelerator – when the start-ups finish the program and get up on stage to explain what they need next, generally money from investors and partners to help them scale. Over the last year Microsoft have done 3 of these and the audience has doubled in scale each time – showing the quality is up there with the better accelerator programs around London.

The Venue, Koko in Camden

There were lots of interesting start-ups across a whole range of industries presenting with a couple that caught my eye in particular (as well as the cupcakes – I’m writing this on a real one of these).

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Cronofy was the first one to catch my eye – they are creating a calendar platform that makes it really easy to develop calendar integration for apps. This has so much application in areas like travel – I don’t know about you but I spend quite a lot of time before a trip making sure all the information for flight and hotel reservations etc is in the right time in my phone’s calendar so I don’t have to connect to wifi in a foreign country and search through emails to find my reservation number. Cronofy will make sure all the info is available easily to you when you need it. There are lots of other areas where this sort of seamless integration will be really useful too and only having to use a single platform to be able to integrate with all the different calendars your customers use will make it feasible.

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The second was Sam Labs who have created an Internet of Things platform along with a hardware development kit. The most impressive thing about their pitch was that they did a live demo (which worked seamlessly). With a few clicks of the mouse they posted a webcam photo to twitter at the press of a small wireless button from their dev kit. Their vision for a connected world is really nice, a bit like IFTTT for hardware and a kit will definitely be on my christmas list!

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Look forward to meeting the next batch!

Builders, value creators and innovation constraints

Inspired by a trip to Dublin and the people of Web Summit.

I came back from the Web Summit in Dublin (November 2014) both overwhelmed and inspired by the number of individuals and organisations building risky and innovative hardware. It’s incredible given how risk averse people can be. Maybe they’re too aware of how risky it can be to try to create a new product on a shoe-string budget, with just a few people and a lot of blood, sweat and intellectual capital.

Perhaps I saw so many great examples in Dublin because it’s not as risky as it used to be.

Plate divider made out of purple potato by Foodini
Plate divider made out of purple potato by Foodini

From 3D food printers, to custom toy designers, plug & play circuitry, and tablet-controlled cooking scales, these companies are using their intellectual capital to deliver products that couldn’t have existed five or 10 years ago.

Example prints by MCor
Example prints by MCor

Modern industrial design, manufacturing, and outsourcing systems have allowed them to concentrate on using and acquiring the capabilities that make their products unique and useful to customers. They’re not as constrained by geography, physical presence, or manufacturing expertise. That’s not say these things aren’t important, they’re just not getting in the way of producing great products as much as they used to.

Drop by Adaptics

Hardware incubators like PCH International are doing great things to liberate innovators from these constraints, while keeping them grounded in the realities of making physical things. They remind me in some way of how Azure, AWS, and Rackspace have revolutionised software infrastructure and provisioning.They allow you to put more of your value creation time into the software itself. It’s not like you can click and your totally custom mobile phone comes off a production line, but it’s remarkable how it’s enabled ideas to become reality.

Personally, I look forward to engaging with this revolution in value creation and I hope that we can do more to librate more ideas and make them reality. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

Lunch & Learn with Dovetailed: 3D printing edible fruit

That’s right, 3D printing edible fruit! Our fascinating Lunch and Learn session with Dovetailed.

August’s Lunch & Learn session was one about which I was especially excited: Dovetailed, a Cambridge-based UX studio and innovation lab, was to come and give a talk and live demo of 3D-printing. Big whoop, some of you more cynical Tesco colleagues may cry: ‘3D printing’s been around for ages – we all know you can 3D-print plastic dolls in your own likeness, and other stuff of questionable usefulness.’

Fair enough, I’d say – except that these guys don’t print plastic stuff: they print fruit…edible fruit!

The concept began from work that Gabriel, Dovetail’s Chief Innovator, had done at Oxford for his dPhil: using a 3D printer to create mimics of biological tissue without using living cells. However, another use for this technology soon emerged. Gabriel says: “The aim of the project was to print something that behaved a bit like a tissue, but personally, when I saw these things, I thought, ‘they look delicious!’”.

Gabriel saw many similarities between the structures he’d created, and fruit. His creations were composed of water droplets separated by very thin membranes – almost like soap bubbles, with a very thin film between them.

An orange, for example, is also made of lots of liquid compartments separated by thin membranes – not quite as thin as his 3D-printed creations, but nevertheless, the structure was similar.

The rest was history. Gabriel decided to apply his experience with 3D-printing liquids, combine it with a different science – molecular gastronomy – and create edible things using a 3D printer. Heston, eat your heart out! Gabriel uses a technique called reverse spherification to create layers of jelly-like structures, one on top of the other, that stick together to form a 3D structure.

You can customise the colour, nutritional content, texture, flavour and shape of these creations, and this technology could be applied much more widely than just within the food industry. You could use it to create personalised make-up; perfumes; easy-to-take supplements or medication for the elderly, or children…and I bet the cocktail bars in Chelsea would lap this up.

‘Sweet sugar pie’
Vaiva, founder of dovetailed.co, also talked to us about how you can change the way people experience food and drink – for example their perceived taste – through technology. She used her stamp system as an example: she simply stamps QR codes onto coffee-shop napkins which, when you scan them with your phone, plays music that makes the coffee you’re drinking seem sweeter – without resorting to unhealthy sugar.

‘Beautiful lasers’
Vaiva also introduced the idea of using laser technology to ‘print’ information on fruit and vegetables, reducing packaging and keeping the customer informed at the same time. For example, not only could you put things like cooking instructions or best before dates on an aubergine, but you could also provide the customer with data about the fruit – its nutritional values, provenance etc.

‘Push it real good’
The final treat Dovetailed had to show us, was their trolley handle add-on. After conducting market research, they concluded that a lot of people felt overwhelmed by choice when shopping in supermarkets. So, they designed a device that clips onto the trolley handle (thus letting the shopper push the trolley as usual), which has a barcode scanner in it. The customer simply scans the product to get information on that product that isn’t usually instantly available, at a glance – and what’s more, the information is personalised.

You scan a card to tailor the results before setting off. So, for example, you could say you’re interested in food mileage, or that you have a nut allergy and wish to be alerted to products containing nuts.

So, when you scan a pack of beef, for example, the more LEDs that light up, the further the meat has travelled to the store. If the product contains nuts, then an unhappy face will appear on the screen. You can even have a running tally of how healthy your trolley is: the scanner can keep track of the amount of salt, fat etc. per portion in your trolley, and can tell you how well you’re doing on average.

Do you think 3D printing your dinner instead of cooking it is the future? Do you think this technology is something that supermarkets could – and should – be exploring? Tweet your thoughts to @TescoLabs

To watch Gabriel and Vaiva present all their inventions, go here.

Lunch & Learn with Toby Stone: how start-ups and big companies can work together

The beauty of disruptive innovation is to be as disruptive as possible.

Last month, Toby Stone came to Tesco HQ to deliver our very first Tesco Labs Lunch & Learn session on how big corporations and start-ups can work together.

Below are six nuggets of wisdom from Toby’s talk. The link to the full video is at the end of the article.

1. Start-ups move fast
As they’re so much smaller than big corporations (maybe just 2 or 3 people), making decisions is quicker and easier: they aren’t fettered by reams of red-tape, and don’t have to get sign-off from 10 people in 8 different departments if they want to change their app’s font colour. They also have an added incentive to keep them on their toes: the real threat of running out of cash.

2. “What have you done for me lately?”
It’s a two-way street when it comes to working with start-ups.
Big companies have lots of customers, which can help start-ups get traction, and have extensive experience and knowledge in areas that start-ups might not be familiar with. They also have $$$!
On the flip side, start-ups can bring disruptive innovation, new ideas and agility to the party. They’re adaptable, and their friendly, non-corporate face can be a good way of engaging people.

3. ‘Watching big corporations try to work directly with start-ups is like watching your dad dancing at a disco.’
Harsh but true… or just plain harsh? Toby says big corporations shouldn’t try to BE start-ups, but rather should think of getting someone in to act as a middle-man, or ‘interpreter.’ Toby says: “the start-up world, like the corporate world, has its own vocabulary, its own media outlets.” This is where corporate accelerators and incubators would be an ideal solution.

4. ‘Pfft. I liked their music back when they only had 300 friends on MySpace!’
The ‘hipster factor’ is a big deal these days; but can a cool start-up retain its street cred if it works with Tesco? Toby says the key to this is staying a healthy distance apart.
If we were to take over a start-up and rob them of that mentality, this would defeat the point of working with them: they are no longer friendly-looking, but look like a cynical corporate Marketing ploy. But if we work with them but keep our distance, and let them keep their identity, then we both benefit: we can ‘borrow’ their street cred, and they keep their identity.

4. The dreaded ‘Process’ is a start-up’s kryptonite
Even if the start-up has the support of a Venture Capital Fund or a big corporate partner and is gaining a decent customer base, if they have to wait too long for the big company to make a decision, they will lose money – and run the real risk of going bust.

6. Time Differences
Corporation and start-ups have different conceptions of time: ‘quickly’ could mean weeks to months to a start-up, whereas to a big corporation, this could mean months to years. Can a big corporation move fast enough to do anything meaningful with the start-up before they get bored…or go bust?

Watch Toby deliver his talk, and field your questions with panache here:

Silicon Valley Trip

We’ve been to Silicon Valley in California, in search of the latest innovations and best innovators.

As you’ll remember from my last post I was due to jet off to Silicon Valley in California, in search of the latest innovations and best innovators.

On my trip I was joined by some of our IT leadership team, who – like me – were keen to visit this huge and thriving area. The aim of the trip was to engage with some of the vast amounts of innovation going on and to figure out how we can best tap into it, in the future. Strategically it’s really important that Tesco is in the thick of it, meeting the right people so that we’re well placed to take advantage of innovations which can really develop how we do business.

What really impressed me was the sheer volume of start-ups and the amount of investment flowing into them, which is around $3bn a year. Many of them are working on retail issues or areas that are associated with retail and it left me with the feeling that it really can’t be long before we see that next big thing.

Whilst I didn’t spot anything this time around which is likely to be a game changer in the near future, there were a few companies which still really caught the eye.

One company organises rewards for customers based on their achievements. Say for example you have a running app and you go jogging every evening, it might be that one day you check your rewards account and find that you beat your personal best and that there’s a present waiting for you. They’ve flipped the typical model on its head and it has proved very successful. Rather than registering for incentives, people go about their normal lives and are given ‘presents’ for achieving certain things. People don’t expect the rewards but from time to time will be entitled to them. This has led to really high rates of engagement and people love the surprise.

The other concept I want to mention, is a way of measuring the world around us. We saw a couple of companies that could use existing technology to accurately measure an aspect of your life (like your home, or your body) to help you make better choices when buying items online. For example, using the Matterport scanner pictured below you could take these computer ‘models’ and dress them with furniture or clothes in order to see how they might look once they are delivered. These 3D models are interactive and allow you to remove, move and insert items so that you can build up a new outfit or room layout.

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(Matterport Scanner)

I also spent a few days in San Francisco as ‘the valley’ is expanding its northern reaches into the city. I was lucky enough to meet with some really big players as well as those who are part of fast growing and exciting start-ups. The start-up industry is an interesting mix of venture capitalists, incubators, start-ups themselves and larger companies who still thrive there.

It was fantastic to be out there meeting some of these really interesting people and I’ve definitely built up my network of useful contacts! My trip reaffirmed to me the importance of having an open, creative and innovative working culture. As we look ahead to the changing retail landscape we know that innovation will be key to ensuring that we are successful and continue to deliver an outstanding customer experience.