Retail Big-Data Startup Competition

The Auto-ID Labs at MIT is sponsoring a contest to create a prototype for a retail application leveraging big data to improve the retail demand chain.
Published: September 10, 2012

“Big data” is a popular buzzword these days, referring to collections of information so massive that it becomes very difficult to store, share, analyze or visualize them. There is a great deal of ink being consumed in writing articles about what to do with all of the information companies collect. Retailers are facing challenges, and as more of them move toward tracking unique items via radio frequency identification, they will likely have all the big data they can handle.

The Auto-ID Labs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is sponsoring the 2012 Big Data Conference, to be held on Oct. 9-10, at MIT’s campus in Cambridge, Mass. In conjunction with that event, the lab is sponsoring a Big Data Conference Competition.

The challenge is to create a mobile retail application prototype, or to develop a mobile retail app or service to improve the retail demand chain, using big data. Developers should address how their application or service will improve marketing, sales or customer service, and they are encouraged to point out where industry specifications would assist in ensuring interoperability across stakeholders.

Here are some details from the MIT Auto-ID Labs’ Web site:

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Everywhere you look, consumers are turning to their smartphones and social media to get more value and better inform their shopping experience. The resulting data is creating new opportunities for retailers to better understand the wants and needs of their consumers, to improve the customer experience and ultimately drive more sales.

Retail chains are complex ecosystems producing large and diverse data-sets. Object identification technologies, like RFID, NFC [Near Field Communication] and bar codes, also create new streams of data. And numerous platforms and Web sites are sprouting up that offer location-based deals and sales promotions for consumers using the myriad data sources. There is tremendous potential for big-data applications that mine and aggregate information from these data silos, to improve retailer supply chain efficiencies and enhance the shopping experience.

How can retailers improve the real-time interaction between consumers and goods on the retail floor using mobile devices? What can be learned to drive sales and profit for retailers large and small? How can retailers improve the overall brand experience for consumers? Those are just a few of the questions that should be answered in the Mobile Retail App Challenge.

What Can You Use?

Retail ID technology, including any combination of RFID and NFC technology, Android or iOS, bar codes (QR or other), social media, augmented reality (i.e. MagicMirror) and other mobile technologies (i.e. contactless payments).

All applications should adhere to the GS1/EPCglobal Electronic Product Code (EPC) standards for identifying products to ensure interoperability between retailers.

Who Is Qualified to Enter? Why Should You Enter?

• Only companies less than five years old and either privately funded or receiving “C” series funding or below are eligible for the competition.

• Companies must register to attend the conference on Oct. 9-10, where the finalists will offer presentations to the judges.

• The winner will receive a consulting session with a major retailer, as well as a private lunch with a big-data investor.

The Judges

The top 10 submissions will be selected and notified by Sept. 22. The semi-finalists will present their prototypes and applications at the conference, PechaKucha style (20 slides, 20 seconds), on Oct. 9, to a panel of judges including:

• Abdu Dahi, CIO, Walgreens Pharmacy, Health & Wellness Technology, Walgreens

• Mike Baker, CEO, DataXu

• Chris Lynch, Atlas Venture, formerly CEO of Vertica

• Sanjay Sarma, co-founder of the Auto-ID Labs

• And other judges to be announced

Submit Today

Submit your completed one-page application to the MIT Auto-ID Labs by Sept. 15, including:

• Name and full contact information

• Team or company

• Concept or prototype

• How it will work, as well as what is required for the consumer, and for the retailer

• Expected results: (a) Why retailers will want and need it, and (b) how it will help improve the retail experience and drive sales

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Stephen Miles, an organizer of the event and the contest, says that it’s important for applicants to identify their technology approach, unique IP and/or areas requiring technical specifications. “We don’t want blue-sky ideas,” he states. “This is analytics and linking legacy structured data sources with Hadoop data sources. We want to see a small-scale demo prototype to show how the pieces will come together.” (For those who are wondering, Apache Hadoop is an open-source software framework that supports distributed applications running on independent computers for analyzing data.)

This sounds like an interesting competition and a fascinating event. I have an idea for a mobile app, in case any developers want to partner with me.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below. To read more of Mark’s opinions, visit the RFID Journal Blog, the Editor’s Note archive or RFID Connect.