Sleepless in Manhattan: Plug and Play goes to NRF

Plug and Play has returned from their first appearance at the National Retail Federation Conference in New York early this January. The NRF conference aims to advance the retail industry by creating a platform that allows all the players in retail to communicate and learn about new trends. This year Plug and Play’s team was […]

Plug and Play has returned from their first appearance at the National Retail Federation Conference in New York early this January. The NRF conference aims to advance the retail industry by creating a platform that allows all the players in retail to communicate and learn about new trends. This year Plug and Play’s team was able to be apart of the dialogue and bring a few of their startups (Blynk Mobile, Ka Ching, Reatiligence, Aisle 50, Smart Assistant, Shoppin pal, Grability, and Second Funnel to name a few) to the action as well.

The team arrived at the conference and set up their booth amid the tumult. They then began reaching out to as many big names as possible, including Tesco, Procter and Gamble, Oracle, Tyco, Burrberry, and Toshiba Global Commerce.

“It’s a rather traditional industry, but it’s amazing that a lot of these guys are looking for innovation. We were one of the only venture firms that had a booth there, and the traffic was unbelievable. Some of the connections we made between our startups and potential corporate partners were really cool.” said Michael Olmstead, who works with corporate development.

The concept of an accelerator model is not as familiar on the east coast as it is in Silicon Valley, so the Plug and Play team met with some resistance in their initial meetings with the more traditional people in retail.

“Some were very positive, and others were somewhat defensive.” Said Candace Denton, Vice President of Corporate Partnership. “It seemed like there were some third parties out there whose toes we were stepping on, like outsource engineering firms and digital marketing design firms. We’re coming in and offering something a little bit different, more of a connection with the startup community.”

Candace Denton, Ivan Zgomba, Norihiro Kondo of Panasonic, Anica John of Mashgin, and Eiji Nozawa Associate Director at MTI

Candace Denton, Ivan Zgomba, Norihiro Kondo of Panasonic, Anica John of Mashgin, and Eiji Nozawa Associate Director at MTI

After the ice melted a bit, the value of a partnership between retailers and an innovative community of startups became readily apparent. The technology offers an immeasurable advantage for the retailer who’s willing to look beyond bar codes and shopping carts, from customer analytics, locations services to track the customer in the store, and customer engagement. For the startup offering these technologies, the possibility of landing their first big customer is incredibly exciting.

“The investment side of a startup is taken care of pretty well in the Valley.” Mike said, “While the investment is good for the startup, getting their first client is much bigger because it validates the technology and it’s the first step towards mass adoption within the industry.”

While there was some success in forging connections with big names in retail, the team plans to make some big changes to their strategy for next year. They plan to change their pitch, tailoring their approach specifically to retailers, brands, and retail enablers. The team will also put a lot more work into their booth.

“Our booth was definitely the most scrappy and the most modest.” Candace said, “I think we spent maybe 1% of what other people spent on their booths, and it showed. But I still appreciate that’s how we are; we’re a raw community. That’s what’s so beautiful about it, and some really great companies have come out of this.”

Overall, Plug and Play had a great experience learning about the retail industry and sharing some of the Silicon Valley philosophy on technology ad entrepreneurship. The team managed to get a little Manhattan culture as well.

Michael Olmstead in Times Square

“I’ve never stayed in Times Square before, and it was really cool to see the buzz of the city.” Michael said.

“I love New York.” Candace said, “I love how the people are exactly like you see them in the movies.”

Plug and Play is looking forward to their next visit to the big apple, and to their blooming partnerships in the retail industry.

Be sure to apply to Plug and Play’s Brand and Retail Center of Innovation.


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