Tech start ups: putting money where your mouth is

BT's process for Brightstar was, though, rather different to the idea behind JLAB. BT had technologies it was developing for internal use, and wanted to spin those out, to attract a wider market and more investment. John Lewis, though, is looking for ideas from outside its business.

It is perhaps less well known as a hive of technology innovation. That, though, is slightly unfair. Despite the floor space given to haberdashery, or old-school favourites such as Brasso (is John Lewis the only place that now sells it?) the retailer is, in some ways, quite cutting edge.

The fact that such a well-known retailer is looking to invest in technology is good for the UK's start-up scene. But it also illustrates the relative lack of funding for start-up businesses in the UK. In a mature market for start ups, companies with ideas good enough for a national retailer should be able to find funding independently.

It also suggests that John Lewis feels the sector needs a boost and perhaps a nudge towards thinking of retail, rather than, say, consumer-entertainment apps.

And its investment, initially at least, is modest. But if a modest investment in a technology can help to realise an idea, it may be something that other firms, in other industries, could try too.

Stephen Pritchard is a contributing editor at IT Pro.