Yesterday, MaRS launched its newest vertical – Retail & Digital Commerce – an acceleration platform to help Canadian startups execute on a global scale and a hub to connect entrepreneurs, investors, brands and retailers who are changing the face of retail through technology.

At the kick-off event, the cluster’s lead, Sue McGill, described the opportunity for Canada to become an international leader in retail innovation: “Canada is one of the world’s most digitally connected countries and home to some of the world’s most coveted brands and formidable retailers, from Hudson’s Bay and Lululemon to Canada Goose and Indigo Books & Music. We have a real opportunity to position Canada at the forefront of global retail innovation and shape consumer experiences in years to come.”

With the convergence of smartphones, cheap sensors, data and cloud computing, we’re seeing a new breed of shopper experiences and behaviours. “This is challenging both retailers and consumers to rethink their relationship with technology,” said Sue.

“At no other point in retail’s history has every aspect of its supply chain been disrupted all at once. The very notion of what a store is, who the customer is, how products are produced, distributed and marketed to consumers is being radically remade. And the single greatest instrument of this change is innovation.”

Canada is home to numerous retail and digital commerce startups. Local innovators that participated in the launch included Shopify, Rubikloud, Hubba, Unata, The Sampler App, BRIKA, Trideit and Askuity. Several of these startups have already joined the new cluster.

In addition to the startups, MaRS Retail & Digital Commerce is partnering with Home Depot, Indigo, P&G and Strategy Magazine. Speakers at the launch included Janet Bannister, co-founder and Partner at Real Ventures, the largest early-stage investor in Canada; Sumit Oberai, chief information officer and executive vice president of loyalty at Indigo; Alexey Rykhva, IT and Global Business Services Leader at P&G; and Jim Zoras, IT Lead Canada, Home Depot.

Indigo’s Sumit Oberai attested to the benefits of working with MaRS: “We can’t do everything in-house or expect to have all the ideas. Our partnership with MaRS introduces us to the diamonds in the rough … a curated list of startups that can target areas where Indigo needs help, whether processes, products or services and support.”

When asked about the future of retail, Cory Rosenfield of Trideit described how the need for convenience and immediacy will become a lot more relevant. Similarly, Hubba’s Ben Zifkin spoke about the trend of moving away from selling to consumers to retailers partnering with customers on the path to purchase. Jen Lee Koss, co-founder of BRIKA, said she is focused on translating innovative technology into experiences that surprise and delight the consumer, ultimately driving conversion through the roof.

For additional event highlights, check out the Storify below. To stay up to date with #RetailTechTO, join our mailing list at https://www.marsdd.com/retailtech

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Lara Torvi

Lara is Manager, Media Relations for MaRS. Prior to joining MaRS, Lara provided communications and digital strategy to New York City’s Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications and the Ontario Government’s Cabinet Office. See more…