February 12, 2019

Lead(H)er: Jackie Trebilcock, Managing Director at New York Fashion Tech Lab

Jackie Trebilcock is no stranger to the ups and downs of fashion entrepreneurship. Since 2000, she has been a founder and co-founding partner of several successful fashion and media startups, and has remained in fashion and business ever since.

She also spent nearly four years in fashion publishing, where she worked on business and brand development for Hearst Magazines, which helped prepare her for her latest role, as did her work in licensing for swimwear and apparel brands. Trebilcock now runs the New York Fashion Tech Lab for Springboard Enterprises. Springboard Enterprises is a non-profit venture catalyst that focuses on supporting women in tech ventures related to life sciences, biotech, media, adtech, and also fashion via the Lab.  

The Lab, a business catalyst, is about to kick off its sixth cohort of participants. The program is and has been sponsored by about 30 prominent retailers and brands, such as Macy’s, Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren, Kohl’s, Tory Burch, and LVMH. In addition to the chance to make valuable connections with these companies, participants receive access to coworking space and a network of about 80 industry experts, entrepreneurs, and investors. The 12-week program culminates in a tech runway demo day, which has been held at InStyle Magazine’s auditorium for the past four programs, and 250 retailers, brands, investors, and members of the press are invited to watch and learn.

Each year’s cohort represents a wide range of fashion-meets-tech, B2B companies.  Equally varied are participants’ reasons for applying in the first place, with previous goals including establishing a presence in New York or enacting business development plan.

Trebilcock’s own goal as managing director is to connect retailers brands, and program participants in meaningful ways. Retailers and brands trust that the Lab has vetted each connection, and participants know that the Lab holds the key to valuable resources and connections that can take their businesses to the next level.

“We’re always trying to be a resource to the industry, because at the end of the day, whether a certain retailer is a partner or not or whether a startup is in our program or not, we’re still able to connect those dots for them,” Trebilcock said.

One of the Lab’s greatest assets is its ability to track trends based on its applicant pool before those trends truly gain steam. Using these insights, the Lab can better match startups to the resources they need to grow.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to apply to the program if their tech falls into a list of 30 categories, from artificial intelligence and blockchain to supply chain and data analytics. The list changes each year, depending on which technologies and practices become common and which represent emerging fields in fashion. When enough applicants seem to fall into a new category, it gets added to the list as a trend to watch.

“We get to see these companies really early and learn about them,” Trebilcock said. “There’s new things happening all the time, and we really don’t know what the next thing will be. That’s the exciting part.”

Rapid Fire Questions

What do you like to do in your free time?

Although this program is based in New York and I live in New York, I think it’s important to get out of the city. I try to make sure I get out and go to the West Coast, or Florida, or even New Jersey -- it doesn’t have to be anything more than a quick trip for the weekend. New York is really intense, and I do work a lot, so it’s always nice to take a step out.

How do you typically manage stress?

I’m still trying to figure that one out. It sounds cliche, but I finally realized that exercise does help. I never really saw that before, but I think in the last five years of so, it finally clicked that taking 45 minutes to go do a class can really shift your whole perspective. It’s nothing new, and everyone figured that out before me, but it actually does work.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Well, I’m holding one right now, so that should tell you how serious this is! I drink probably three cups of coffee a day.

What’s one of your favorite places in the New York City area?

I recently moved uptown, so I’m close to Central Park, and I go there a lot. It’s a great stress reliever when it's warm out, and it's nice to take a walk and feel like you're out of the city even when you're not. Whenever I would talk to someone who lived around here they'd say it was so nice to be near the park, and I just didn't get it, but now i'm one of those people! It’s somewhere close by where it's easy to walk in, breathe for a minute, and feel relaxed, especially in the summer.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments?

I don't feel like it's happened yet, to be honest. I’ve done a lot of cool things, but I feel like it would be premature to say that anything is a greatest accomplishment. I'm proud of what I've been able to do with this program. I joined in 2014, and it's grown and is doing quite well, with a good reputation. That’s not just me though, there are other people involved, but I am proud of how we’re doing.

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

Not at all, in many ways. I don't know many people that thought this is what they would be doing. It's a different time now, and even in this industry, magazines and publishing don't exist like they used to. If you thought one day you were going to grow up to be this fashion editor, that's not the same anymore as it used to be. It’s the same with designers and brands -- it's different now. There’s more fanfare around a direct to consumer brand, where it doesn’t have to do with just the design of a piece, it could also be about the story of it, too.

I didn't ever think that I would be doing this job, because who even knew this existed? It's now more commonplace to see accelerators and incubators and opportunities coming through programs like ours that just didn’t exist. It’s definitely not what I thought, but I think that's probably the same for almost anyone. People would rather make a job than take a job now, so it's just a different world.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

I think being creative and figuring out different potential opportunities is a good way to start, because there are so many new positions that are out there that you may not have even known about when you started studying a certain thing or going down a certain path four years ago.

Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.