Walmart is enlisting technology provider help by inviting them to a first-ever Open Call in Bentonville slated for Oct. 6, the retailer said Thursday (April 28). The Open Call is held in conjunction with the Northwest Arkansas Technology Summit which will take place on Oct. 7.
The “Innovation Open Call” event gives selected startups from around the country the opportunity to pitch their technology solutions into Walmart’s ecosystem and millions of customers, said Bao Nguyen, corporate spokesman for Walmart. He said more than 100 technologists and executives from around the company will review the solutions in the areas of retail, logistics, big data, security and social media.
“This is the first time a pitch event of this scale will take place in Bentonville, Arkansas, with the company anticipating over 200 submissions,” Nguyen said.
Technology startup advocate Jeff Amerine, founder of Startup Junkie, said it’s a good thing when the region’s flagship businesses embraces technology innovation outside the walls of their own enterprise.
“There are some big problems to solve in retail today and while Walmart has historically done tons of technology innovation internally it’s a sign of maturity from leadership to try and incorporate outside innovation,” Amerine said.
He said Northwest Arkansas has been deemed the third best place in the country to launch a business thanks in part to the concentration of white collar talent, the supplier community and retailers who recognize new product innovations.
Tom Douglass, director of Walmart’s Lab 415-C, said the retailer researches between 700-750 technologies a year. The technology lab is named after founder Sam Walton’s airplane – 415-C – which he used to scout real estate locations from the sky as he expanded the business.
Douglass said his team will assess the technology’s maturity, use cases, comparisons and how it can improve shopping for customers. Walmart is already screening up to 750 technologies annually and it showcases 40 of the most innovative on its website.
“We look at everything from technology that helps associates run stores more efficiently to capabilities in the internet of things, (connected devices that communicate without human interaction, such as a smart thermostat), he said. “At Walmart’s Lab 415-C, we look for disruptive, innovative technology that has the potential to change the way people shop. But not just change that part of their lives – make it better.”
He said an important way the retailer finds solutions that fits customers’ needs is by sourcing innovations from technology suppliers. Modeled after the merchandising Open Call, the Technology Innovation Open Call, will allow Walmart leaders to meet with companies creating the latest technology for retail, logistics, big data and social media.
Carol Spieckerman, CEO of Spieckerman Retail, said the move by Walmart reflects a new “openness” in the retail sector.
“Walmart’s innovation open call is a powerful example of the spirit of openness and partnership that has taken hold in retail. Not that long ago, retailers seemed to be determined to do things for themselves, including creating and marketing brands. As fast-moving digital dynamics drive the business across bricks and clicks, retailers are realizing the benefits of taking an open source approach. I expect the event to draw interest beyond local providers,” she said.
Walmart expects to see 250 potential technology suppliers at the Oct. 6 event. The submission deadline for potential selection in the Technology Innovation Open Call is July 22, or the first 250 submissions. Details for the application of the local Open Call are available online.