Interview: IKEA On Collaborating With Innovative Startups To Build Products For A Better World
PSFK speaks to IKEA of Sweden's manager of new business projects to learn about how its Bootcamp program finds and supports startups with the potential to enhance the accessibility and sustainability of the retailer's offerings
Swedish home goods mega retailer IKEA is well known for its commitment to affordability and functionality, and is now pushing the boundaries of innovative concept and product with the latest rendition of its Bootcamp initiative.
In the current cycle of the program that sources promising startups ranging the gamut from novel bicycle transportation to conductive paints, IKEA is working with and supporting a dozen fledgling brands to create products and services designed for a positive impact on consumers as well as the planet at large.
PSFK spoke to Per Krokstäde, manager of new business projects at IKEA of Sweden, to learn about the goals of the Bootcamp program for the retailer as well as the brands it partners with. Ultimately, IKEA hopes to tap the power of community and fan the flames of high-potential creators to make its goods more affordable, more accessible and more sustainable than ever.
PSFK: What are some of the broader industry or consumer trends that you've noticed that you're responding to with the Bootcamp initiative?
Per Krokstäde: Our vision more broadly at IKEA is we want to improve the lives of all people. With the Bootcamp initiative, it is about really zooming in on saying, “How can we be more affordable for all?” That's one of big things, because there are so many people in the world and not all of them can afford IKEA today.
We've also seen by all the research that if you have a home that you like and that you feel good in, that leads to lots of other positive effects. The second aspect is to see how can we be more accessible to people. We are right now in 52 markets. We have another hundred-plus to go.
We also see that people are moving more and more into the cities. By about 2025 about 60% of the people will live in cities. How can we then be more accessible to these people? How can we have a way that we can be where the customers are, both physically and digitally?
That's interesting, because at the same time you're also trying to maintain a commitment to ethical and sustainable production. Is there any tension between those goals? If so, how are you navigating that?
Our founder, Ingvar Kamprad, has said that this can be perceived as a dilemma. But, as he said when I was discussing this with him, he took a coin, and he said, “There is no flip side of the coin. We are at our best when we can combine these things.”
We strive to maintain quality and do it in a way that minimizes the impact on the environment or even has a positive a effect, and has the lowest price. This is what we always strive for at IKEA. This is what is challenging, but it's also the recipe for success for us, when we balance all of these parameters. It should look good, it should have a great function, it should have a high quality, be sustainable and have the lowest price on the market.
That's also the motivation for everyone here at IKEA. When we balance these, we can reach more people.
Let's delve into the Bootcamp program. Could you give a brief overview of how it works, from the point where you make contact with the companies you collaborate with, to their journey of building their business with this initiative?
First we start scouting for the startups. We do that during November and December. We do that in two ways. One is digital. We use social media. We reach out to different digital places where startups are to get them to apply for the boot camp.
At the same time, we also do a roadshow where we go to some selected cities in the world where we know that they have a good ecosystem for startups. We do that now over a couple of weeks, going to 10 locations globally in total. After that, we will, during January, narrow down our choices from these many, many applicants. Last year when we did the boot camp, we had 1,298 applicants from 86 countries.
During January, we will narrow down our choices to around 40. These we will invite them to Älmhult in Sweden, where we have the headquarters of this project, for a range of activities. Then we will have a couple days of workshops with the senior managers that are sponsors to the startups, as well as a lot of other people, to decide which 20 will we invite to the program.
After that, the next step is the actual Bootcamp program. That starts at the end of March, where we will start with two intensive weeks where we teach them everything about IKEA, as well as when we work together with the sponsors and the startups on what they shall achieve during the boot camp. Then we have what we call a semi-remote program.
This gives the startups two free weeks where they can either work at IKEA locations or at their own locations. After that, we have a midterm checkup again in Älmhult. Then they work a couple of weeks, either at home or at IKEA. Then, we have the two last weeks where we finish it off with a grand finale, where we present the process outcome and the next steps.
Could you describe a particular case of a startup you worked with, and what the program enabled it to achieve?
We had 10 really good startups last time. Personally I think that all of them were great.
One of the startups was a British company called Bare Conductive. They do conductive paints. Lots of brands do that, but they are really good in understanding how to use this type of paint in broader applications. IKEA stores have previously had nothing like that. It is new for us and really fun.
Another one is a German company that makes a bicycle trailer targeted at city dwellers, many of whom don't have cars or sometimes even licenses. You can load 300 kilos on it. It's an innovative concept for people who need a more convenient way to tote home larger purchases.
Would you say you have a wide range of types of companies you work with? It sounds like they're fairly diverse.
Absolutely. We see everything from advanced AI and analytics to platforms and crowdsourced services and so on. It's wide, but the IKEA concept is quite wide, if you think about it. We have a vertically integrated supply chain that starts with the raw material, then goes to product development, production, transportation, marketing, meeting the customers and more.
It seems like it's a dynamic flow—you're supporting these retailers and they're also supporting IKEA. Ideas are passing back and forth.
Yes, it is. We have had a vertically integrated business model to try sharing throughout. What we have done now with our business model, lately, is to open it up—to allow more co-creation with the many partners and people around the world.
What do you look for in the companies that you partner with for this initiative?
To be able to work in the IKEA Bootcamp, I look for three things. Number one: Is this innovative? Number two: How does this fit into IKEA? Number three: How does the theme fit into IKEA? We are a value-driven company. We have inventions that have created better lives for many people, and we believed in that. We worked operationally with that. We want the people who work with IKEA to share our types of values.
Is there anything you can share regarding the future of Bootcamp and how you think the program will evolve over the next year or so?
I would love to! It's just that I actually I don't know. IKEA is an ever-evolving concept. Last year it was about learning; this year it's about doing. Based on the outcome of this, we are constantly evaluating, “How can this be good for our customers, for our partners and for IKEA?”
If we get the win-win-win—customers, partners and IKEA—then I guess we will do something more. We can also tweak it for another direction. Unfortunately, it's way too early to say that. The only thing I can say is that the startups we met so far are fantastic.