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The experience of the Fashion District Innovation Challenge Prize, the benefit to start-ups, and a few words of advice for this year’s competitors.

From left to right: Lindsay Fisher, Co-Founder at Sparkbox | Joanna Chen, Chief Executive Officer at Gibbon | Taylor Semelberger, Founder at Miro Solutions UK


So what happened to the three start-ups from the Fashion District Innovation Challenge Prize 2019? Helen Lax, Fashion District Director caught up with them and asked them for their perspective on the innovation competition, how it impacted their business and their journey since. 

The competition is for fashion-tech start-ups with innovations that could transform the future of retail, and the range of applications from last year certainly showed that tech start-ups can have a deep and expansive impact on the industry. This year, there is even more of a need for fresh tech approaches to solve real industry issues. 

Lindsay Fisher from Sparkbox was the winner of 2019, with Joanna Chen from Gibbon and Taylor Semelberger from Miro Solutions joint runners up. Together they have painted out the advantages that the competition can bring, from spending time with the Fashion District Critical Friends, to exposure to investors, alongside a cash injection and insights advice to help them along the way. 

I highly recommend Retail Futures to all retail tech and fashion tech start-ups – everyone should apply!”.

Lindsay Fisher, Sparkbox, 1st prize winner of Retail Futures 2019

HELEN LAX: What difference did being a winner of Retail Futures 2019 make to your start-up?

LINDSAY FISHER: Winning Retail Futures in 2019 accelerated Sparkbox’s growth. The competition was a fantastic opportunity to showcase what we’ve built, to grow our network, and to get valuable feedback from retailers, industry experts, and investors. After the competition we raised investment, won Tech Nation’s Rising Stars competition, and our founders made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for 2020. This year, we’re continuing to help our fashion clients maximise the value of their inventory and we’ve built an exciting new product based partially on feedback from Retail Futures “Critical Friends”!

JOANNA CHEN: Winning brought awareness to the company due to the large network from Retail Futures and Fashion District. It opened many doors and brought initial discussions with many fashion stakeholders subsequently.  We are also very thankful to be able to be selected as finalist, and also awarded as the runner up amongst many outstanding innovative firms. This recognition from the panels who are veteran in the fashion industry serves as a constant drive and motivator for the company to progress further.

TAYLOR SEMELSBERGER: The Retail Futures competition brings together the most impressive players in the fashion and tech industry. I think this category is one that’s rich with opportunity for innovation and competitions like this are going to play an integral part in building the future of fashion. Since winning, we’ve had the opportunity to pitch enterprise brands as well as major players in the venture capital space. Most importantly, we’ve grown our team of 3 to a team of 9 and are fast approaching our commercial launch date. 

HELEN: What was the most useful part of the innovation challenge prize for you?

LINDSAY: We were bootstrapping when we won Retail Futures, so the cash prize was especially impactful for us. We used it to make a key hire earlier than planned, and she has boosted our pace of product development at a critical time. Beyond the prizes, the “Critical Friends” sessions were really helpful – they gave us the chance to refine our pitch and gather feedback on our product and value proposition.  

JOANNA: The prize money is definitely an encouraging push and support which is often helpful to startups. However we found the subsequent network and engagement that came from the event to be helpful in building a network and presence in the fashion industry.  

TAYLOR: The Critical Friends day was one of the most important things Miro did last year. We were able to get feedback from industry experts on several key aspects of the business, from software deployment to cost per user. These conversations have specifically influenced the decisions we’ve made over the past 6 months and I’m proud to say that it’s led us to a commercially viable product that our retailers are excited about.  

HELEN: What would be your words of advice to start-ups entering Retail Futures this year?

LINDSAY: Last year’s competition included a wide range of start-ups – from pre-revenue with a promising product to more established and funded companies. I’d highly recommend Retail Futures to all retail tech and fashion tech start-ups – everyone should apply!

JOANNA: Embrace the event with an open mind and heart. Build as many relationships as you can during the event. And of course, have fun!

TAYLOR: Miro is a unique company in that we’ve bootstrapped the entire development by building a strong network of stakeholders. I think that the judges saw the passion we have as a team to take this to market, despite lack of formal funding that’s often seen in SaaS companies. I think articulating our plans for success, as well as acknowledging our weak points was key in persuading the judges. 

About Gibbon: Gibbon is a sustainable rental platform for travellers so they can travel light, fuss-free and in style

About Miro Solutions UK: Miro is an e-commerce solution that uses Augmented Reality to digitise in-store shopping. Our proprietary software provides footwear retailers with a solution to increase positive customer experiences online, reduce physical returns, and provide data for hyper-accurate merchandise planning.

About Sparkbox: Sparkbox helps fashion retailers sell more inventory more profitably by optimising pricing and trading decisions, using machine learning to understand customer demand and make pricing recommendations that are tailored to business goals.