John Lewis seeks the next big thing in health and wellbeing for incubator programme JLAB

The John Lewis Partnership has launched a new format for its retail tech innovation programme JLAB - which will now run throughout the year.

JLAB: looking for ways to help consumers maintain a healthy lifestyle
JLAB: looking for ways to help consumers maintain a healthy lifestyle

In the past, JLAB – now in its fifth year – has run as a 12 week programme, involving around five businesses. Last year, the programme involved Waitrose for the first time alongside John Lewis, meaning there was an increased focus on food-related businesses.

This year JLAB will be seeking businesses in areas related to three themes, with the pitches spread throughout the year.

Applications for the first challenge, which is looking for businesses in the health and wellbeing space, are open from now until 25 May. It is being led by Waitrose, with the supermarket looking for "looking for customer facing, digital propositions that provide customers with advice and inspiration that make it easier for them to lead healthy lifestyles and eat more healthily."

The other two challenges will be based on different themes that are yet to be announced. In each case, JLAB has not fixed the number of places it plans to offer – this will depend on the entries. It is inviting companies at various stages of life to enter, from start-ups barely off the ground to established businesses.

JLAB this year will be run with innovation delivery partner True.

Last year’s JLAB participants included WeFiFo, online platform that connects people wanting to host supper clubs or group dinners with diners.

It is one of two JLAB businesses from last year that the John Lewis Partnership has invested in, along with smart addressing system Exaactly.

WeFiFo recently held its first supper club in a Waitrose store, in Horsham, Sussex – something founder Seni Glaister said she planned to do more of.

WeFiFo has also partnered with Skype to offer a "virtual" supper club for some of its hosts, led by chef Rick Stein.

John Vary, futurologist at the John Lewis Partnership, said: "As more and more businesses face digital disruption, it's increasingly important to stay committed to the ideals of our founder by experimenting and nurturing innovation both inside and outside our business.

"This is exactly why we have created a completely new JLAB for 2018. We wanted to take the programme to the next level by launching more events but with a focus on themes we feel are most significant to our customers as well as the future of retail. We're excited to see the market challenging ideas businesses will put forward."