dunnhumby Ventures and the future of retail

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Atul Singh and Lauren Jung, the founders of The Shelf, are as uncommon a pair of entrepreneurs as you might find – she’s a classically trained graphic designer, with a focused stare and unrelenting curiosity. He’s a PhD in Internet Protocols, who comes off as a potential space-case, but is clearly analyzing your every word, specifically the ones you don’t even know you’re going to offer five minutes from now. Together, they’ve created a technology that can identify – in real-time, mind you - the prices of products across online retailers, taking into account every potential promotion or discount.

Who the hell is James Glover? He’s one of the founders of Coherent Path and he’s wooly, his bushy indie-rock beard just begging you to tug on it. But you can’t because his flashy smile and spot-on chatter have you mesmerized. And he’s flanked by Greg Leibon, a math professor from Dartmouth College, who keeps flipping his shoulder-length, speed-metal curly black hair behind his ears while delivering algorithmic sermons on topics such as Geometric Orienteering and Network Dynamics Theory.

Then there’s Jared Shreiber, the co-founder of InfoScout. It’s true, he looks confoundingly like Edward Snowden - and oddly enough he also wants to free your data (in this case, your shopping data). With years of experience in the retail analytics industry, he can talk SKU-level shopper data so smoothly you can hardly see his lips moving. And he’s developed a set of mobile applications that allows you to snap and save your grocery receipts in exchange for saving money for your kids school (Shoparoo) or feeding a virtual pig (Receipt Hog). Bacon lovers might say they’re both philanthropic concepts.

All of these people have one thing in common — they are the first companies to be funded by dunnhumby Ventures, a seed fund seeking the best and brightest innovators who are changing the face of retail. We chose to back them because their technologies and business models are part of an absolutely incredible renaissance in retail, defined by the empowered customer having their own personalized experience when and how they want it.

Over the next few years, dunnhumby aims to back dozens of entrepreneurs just like these with seed funding, to accelerate the pace of change and to redefine what it means to run down to the corner store. (In yesterday’s world that would have meant hopping into your Buick LeSabre, rolling down the windows—manually—and wandering the aisles until you found the 24-roll Charmin somehow mixed in with the pet food. In tomorrow’s world, your retailer will know you like double-ply, and shop for it once every two weeks, which is why a personalized discount will appear simultaneously on your mobile phone and discreetly on digital shelf as you wander by.)

You probably know dunnhumby as the company that tracks the purchases of more than 400 million consumers worldwide through retail partners like Tesco and Kroger, Macy’s and Raley’s, who together believe in the singular goal of using customer science to create better shopping experiences for You, their customer. That is what makes dunnhumby Ventures a no brainer — innovation is another route to a better shopping experience.

I have to admit, two years ago when Tesco’s dunnhumby acquired BzzAgent, the startup I’d founded in 2001, I wasn’t entirely sure if they truly believed in innovation. Hell, I wasn’t even sure if two years later I’d still be with the company. The standard story is that an entrepreneur finds the acquiring company totally asphyxiating, and they part ways shortly after the transaction.

But Simon Hay, dunnhumby’s CEO, is a relentless believer in the future of retail, and is a driving force behind our ability to become more global and more entrepreneurial. He’s been a massive supporter of the vision to invest in entrepreneurs and has made the decision to stay an easy one. I’m proud to be part of a team that can build something like dunnhumby Ventures, and know we’re going to keep shaping the shopping experience of the future.

To Atul, Lauren, James, Greg and Jared – we’re proud to call you our partners and we’d consider ourselves lucky to work with many more just like you.

Are you an entrepreneur whose company is trying to shape the future of shopping? Reach out to us about funding here.

Dave Balter leads dunnhumby Ventures and is the founder of five companies, including BzzAgent, which was acquired by dunnhumby in 2011.  You can find this post on the dunnhumby Ventures' blog located here.  You can also follow Dave on Twitter (@davebalter) by clicking here.

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