Target’s Newest Incubator Program Focuses On Generation Z Entrepreneurs

By Kavita Kumar Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Target Incubator is for Generation Z entrepreneurs aiming to do good for the world and the planet. 

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

One CEO is looking for $1.2 million for his startup, Agricycle, which has worked with farmers around the world to make dried fruit out of harvests that would otherwise go to waste.

Another has a patent for her company, Terravive, to make compostable cups and forks out of crop scrap. Another is a specialist in prosthetics whose company, Mickey's Mission, makes dolls for children with physical disabilities so they can have toys that resemble them.

All three execs are younger than 24.

Last week, these entrepreneurs were among the young founders of eight startups who delivered pitches to an audience of Target executives. The Minneapolis retailer gave each company $10,000 and loaned executives to a seven-week program where the entrepreneurs learned about negotiating, branding, pitching and more.

Selected from a pool of 400 applicants, they are part of Target's newest accelerator program for early-stage companies. Target Incubator is for Generation Z entrepreneurs aiming to do good for the world and the planet.

Target now has four accelerator programs that have run 13 boot camps for more than 100 startups since 2013.

In addition to Target Incubator, there's an accelerator for global retail startups run in conjunction with Metro AG, a German food group, an extension of the three-year program it ran with Techstars. There's one for emerging brands called Target Takeoff. And its longest-running accelerator is in India for startups based in that country.

"I believe we have a leading portfolio of accelerator and incubator programs," said Minsok Pak, Target's chief strategy and innovation officer. "I anticipate that we'll continue to grow them going forward."

Target has invested in some of the startups, some of which, he added, have had exits. Many have run pilot programs with Target and some now have commercial arrangements with the retailer. And some brands are now being sold at Target stores or on its website.

"It is a huge investment in time and resources," Pak said. "What we get is we get access and visibility to some really exciting innovation, technology, products and brands. But also having our teams work with and mentor these companies, we're getting some of that startup culture infused in how to quickly develop a concept and idea, a lot of the agile thinking, the flexibility and just the vibrancy that these startups bring."

The energy and enthusiasm of the Generation Z founders in the new program, he added, has been particularly infectious and inspiring.

"My mission is to normalize the idea that not everyone looks the same or acts the same, and that's OK," Mikaela Nelson of Mickey's Mission, dressed in a jean skirt and bright yellow sneakers, said during her presentation.

Right now, it takes about 50 hours of 3-D printer time to create one of her dolls, she said. So she spent part of her time at Target trying to find ways to more efficiently manufacture them.

"We're on a mission to empower rural women around the world through small choices and big dreams," said Josh Shefner of Agricycle, sporting a baseball cap during his pitch.

He's taking a break from college to work full time on his business, which already includes a team of 21 people.

Another startup in the program, Pulp Pantry, is making chips out of leftover juice pulp. KnoNap has developed a cocktail napkin that can test for the presence of common rape drugs. Trill Project is an anonymous social network that provides an alternative to Facebook or Instagram where young people can express themselves more freely and find support.

Symba is trying to help companies better manage interns and contract workers through its technology platform. And Dressmate has started an online marketplace for female artists making sustainable fashions around the world; its founder plans to open a store in Brooklyn this fall.

At the pitch day, there were no announcements of any pilot programs or tests with Target.

But Pak said Target may partner with some of the startups down the road.

"I can assure you there are several which have piqued people's interests," he said. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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