GBG Tech Links
Tech Links is a commercialization program that enables later-stage tech startups to rapidly scale their solution through access to Global Brands Group’s expertise and partners.
Connect Global Brands Group with startups shaping the future of fashion and retail.
Global Brands Group Holding Limited is a branded apparel, footwear and brand management company. It designs, develops, markets and sells products under a diverse array of owned and licensed brands and a wide range of product categories on a global scale.
Learn more about the Global Brands Group
The company works with brands under its four business verticals: Men’s and Women’s Fashion, Footwear and Accessories, Kids and Brand Management. The products are sold across multiple geographies and through various distribution channels, including department stores, hypermarkets/clubs, off-price retailers, independent chains, specialty retailers and e-commerce. While Global Brands’ business is primarily wholesale, the Group also makes strategic investments in direct-to-consumer retail and e-commerce.
The company designs, develops, markets and sells products under a diverse array of owned and licensed brands, such as Frye, Calvin Klein, Juicy Couture, Spyder, Aquatalia, David Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Jones New York, Kenneth Cole, Reiss, Sean John, and AllSaints.
In 2018, GBG decided to overhaul its innovation capabilities by launching a program called Tech Links that would help connect the organization and its business units with startups shaping the future of fashion and retail. GBG would offer these companies dedicated support, mentoring, and access to its expertise and customer base in the retail and fashion industry. In return, GBG business units could get access to the startup solutions they needed to improve their performance.
Creative program design, hands-on leadership coaching, thoughtful change management, and extensive ecosystem building.
Yaniv’s knowledge and expertise in technology has added much value to our innovation work at GBG Tech Links.
I joined the Tech Links project in early 2018. My role as a member of the Fung Academy was to help the Tech Links team design and launch the program, recruit internal champions, and build the ecosystem to support it. My work with the Tech Links team consisted of a wide range of activities – from 1-on-1 coaching to co-creating the new program.
Connect with the Tech Links team
My first challenge was establishing a working relationship with the Tech Links team. We needed to find a way to work around the fact that they were in NYC and I was in Israel (with several predetermined trips to NYC).
Our collaboration framework included::
- Assigning roles and responsibilities – who does what, when, and how
- A few tools to help us stay in touch and accountable, as well as, manage and document our work
- Activities timeline and a meeting/check-in schedule – we looked 3 months into the future and planned backward. Who did we have to talk to, what resources did we need to book, what places did we want to visits, etc…every item got a date and went on the timeline. If it wasn’t on the timeline, it wasn’t going to happen.
We also made sure to speak regularly via WhatsApp or Zoom (with video on) and to meet f2f whenever we were all in NYC at the same time. Prioritizing human connection is a lesson I learned the hard way. Early in the project, I was trying to juggle several things at once and communicating with the team only through emails. Pretty soon, I started getting feedback from people around me that the team was unhappy. When I confronted them about it (Look, I’m Israeli, we don’t have the time nor the skills to “beat around the bush”), I realized that the communication style I chose came off as too authoritative, like I was trying to be their boss, instead of their peer. I quickly made the adjustment and things started improving right away.
Co-Create the program
Over a period of several months, the team and I designed the Tech Links program. Initially, the plan was to run batches or cohorts of 6 months with a small number of startups and GBG’s internal champions. During those 6 months, the Tech Links team would support the collaboration between the startups and the business units including removing obstacles to commercialization, allocating any necessary resources, finding experts, and more.
However, when the program finally launched, the team quickly realized that the business units were struggling to keep up with the startups and more time was needed to let the different collaborations mature. We ended up adopting an “Open door” policy, meaning, any startup could apply to the program at any given time and if their solution was a good fit for one of the GBG champions, then the Tech Links team would spring into action and provide the necessary support.
Identify internal champions
A big and critical part of the program was identifying the right champions within GBG’s business units. The decision which business units to involve in the program came from the top, but from there on the Tech Links team had to scout and recruit one or more champions from each business unit.
Luckily, Heather Mee, EVP of Marketing and Tech Link’s Managing Director, has been with GBG for a while and was extremely knowledgeable about the organization. The Tech Links team could leverage Heather’s connections and tap the right people for the job.
Build the ecosystem
Once the program was off the ground, we needed to build a strong ecosystem in NYC to support it. After mapping the landscape of potential collaborators, Tech Links partnered with XRC Labs and NY Fashion Tech Lab (NYFTL) to host joint events, share know-how, and establish a pipeline of startup solutions.
Scouting & Piloting
Whether it was through push or pull, the Tech Links team needed a process to scout, vet, and pilot relevant startup solutions. Through 1-on-1 conversations and group workshops with the program champions, the team uncovered existing and new business needs, understood the limits and capabilities of each business unit, and built a taxonomy of tech themes to guide their scouting and vetting of startup solutions.
An Airtable database was set up to document and track every interaction with a potential startup solution and during weekly calls, the team would review the database and address any issues.
In order to support pilots, the team enlisted the help of Farrukh Awan, SVP of IT Application & Development, and his team. Farrukh had been advocating for incorporating new tech solutions into GBG and successfully integrated 42Technologies solution to streamline the reporting across business units.
Creating content for training and development
A key component of the program was educating the champions (and GBG as a whole) about different topics ranging from Artificial Intelligence and data analytics to being an entrepreneur and working with startups.
Creating content for training and development included organizing talks and workshops on topics of interest, taking champions on innovation safaris at NRF in NYC or ShopTalk in Las Vegas. The content has to be (a) relevant, (b) actionable, and (c) manageable. We were careful not to overwhelm our champions with too much information all at once. Special emphasis was put on framing content as stories that relate back to the business. The Tech Links team packaged some of the content as tools and templates that could empower champions to take what they’ve learned and help others apply the learnings.
Promoting entrepreneurial thinking and doing across the organization, building a pipeline of startup pilots, and empowering decision-makers to innovate.
Tech Links successfully managed to bring new ideas into GBG and espoused an entrepreneurial mindset across its many business units. The team supported more than 25 internal champions from over 10 different business units, reviewed more than a hundred startup solutions, and launched a dozen pilots.
Tech Links organized and facilitated curated events, such as Innovation Safaris, to introduce its champions to new ideas, trends, and technologies that are relevant to their business. For example, a curated tour to NRF in NYC and a visit to the NRF Innovation Lab.
Tech Links has built a thriving ecosystem in NYC with partners like XRC Labs, NYFTL, all working together to support companies and ideas shaping the future of fashion and retail.
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