By Molly K. McLaughlin, Contributing Writer
XRC Labs is a retail-focused startup accelerator in New York dedicated to disrupting the retail and consumer goods sectors. Companies chosen to be part of a cohort with XRC get office space, mentorship, some early seed funding, and access to established companies in consumer goods and retail. Among the backers of XRC Labs are BestBuy, TJX, Reebok, and the National Retail Federation.
At a 2016 event, XRC introduced the companies in its second cohort. In opening the event, Pano Anthos, the technology entrepreneur who oversees XRC Labs, highlighted some of the differences between the way the tech world and the world of retail work.
Here’s a look at the startups that pitched to investors and prospective partners at Demo Day in Manhattan; they ranged from instant interior design to a smart mirror looking to change your morning routine.
Named after the character of Greek myth, the Perseus smart mirror wants to make your morning routine smoother. The mirror has a built-in camera and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities. Customers will be able to take selfies, get traffic and transit information, call an Uber, and even purchase products while washing their face or shaving. The company is also working with influencers and brands to get content for the mirror, such as makeup tutorials. Shortly before the event, Perseus Mirror launched a Kickstarter campaign, which raised a quarter of its $100,000 goal in just one day. (Early adopters are paying about $200 for the mirrors.)
Aimed at ex-pats and busy professionals, Furnishr designs entire rooms that can be delivered and assembled in one day. Furnishr says it can save customers up to 20 percent off retail by working with furniture and accessory wholesalers. The company already works with relocation and real estate services and announced at the Demo Day that it has been hired to furnish an entire apartment complex.
Banter is an aptly-named technology that enables customers to contact businesses using text messaging. The technology uses natural language processing to answer simple questions, such as “what time do you close tonight?” or “do you have this size product in stock?” and more complicated requests, like “find me a black dress under $200.” The company says its technology can respond to more than 80 percent of messages; complex questions are seamlessly routed to a real person. Banter is focused on retail (in-store and e-commerce) but plans to expand into travel (e.g. find flights), restaurant (make a reservation), and other industries.
Reveal creates curated pop-up boutiques that can be assembled in 22 minutes in locations like parks, sidewalks, plazas, and building lobbies. The company wants to help small brands that lack the connections to get into department stores, as well as larger brands that want to test out new styles and limited editions. Customers can try out clothing using the attached dressing rooms and place an order on the spot, and have it shipped to their address. RFID tags give retailers data on which items are being pulled off the rack by shoppers, which are being tried on, and which are getting little attention — data that could influence decisions about production or pricing. Over the next eight months, the company will roll out 20 Reveals around the country; it will appear at New York Fashion Week this fall. (Below, Jia Li of Jia Collection, a line carried by Reveal, and Reveal founder Megan Berry at Reveal’s Demo Day pop-up boutique.)
WearAway solves the challenge a stylist faces when dressing actors and other individuals for on-camera segments. This is almost always done under a tight deadline and is a fully manual process. Wearaway digitizes the inventory of clothing and accessory rental firms and has an online platform that enables stylists to easily select and order items without running all over a given city. It currently has contracts with top rental houses and has worked with Project Runway and VH1 award shows.
Seashells is a platform that offers customers instant cash back on purchases, in the form of retailer gift cards. Today, the company says, more than 50 million cash back program users wait for an average of 90 to 120 days to receive their cash back; Seashells asserts that roughly 30 percent of these transactions fail for a myriad of reasons. Seashells partnered with top gift card providers, and it receives commissions from them. Customers can use the cash back offers online and in-store.
On-Line @ The Mall (OLAM) takes brick and mortar shopping and blends it with online shopping. Customers can order items from a local mall online, and then pick them up the same day without getting out of their car. Catering to the 70 percent of the U.S. population who live in the suburbs, OLAM uses in-house couriers to purchase and deliver the merchandise, charging a $5 transaction fee that is paid by either the retailer or the customer, depending on the arrangement. OLAM eventually plans to work with 300 malls nationwide, and this fall will pilot the project at a location in New Jersey.
ShopShops connects Chinese consumers with U.S. retailers online and offline. The app helps customers find the best stores when traveling and reduces the friction involved in online shopping, such as payment issues. Customers can shop by city from multiple stores, pay easily with universal checkout, and receive their order in one shipment. The app integrates retailer social feeds, curated content, and exclusive discounts. ShopShops is currently partnered with 20 retailers and went live on the Apple App Store shortly after the XRC Labs event.
Strypes offers a platform for personalizing any consumer good with 3D-printed accessories. This can be done using an online design tool, or with an interactive in-store experience. Strypes is not in the business of designing apparel, but in enabling consumers to personalize their own clothing, shoes, backpacks and other accessories.
Finally, the Crated is looking to incorporate sensors, heat, and light into clothing using versatile textiles and materials instead of uncomfortable or heavy wires. The company had prototypes on hand, which included garments with built-in haptic feedback to alerts wearers of hazards, a pair of jeans with a heating element, and a light-up jacket. The Crated announced a partnership with Hela Clothing, which manufactures for brands including Calvin Klein and Levi’s.
A list of XRC’s latest cohort can be founder here.