These 9 startups are pushing the envelope of retail innovation

A lightning-quick look at pitches from startups at NRFtech 2017 and why you should care.

Aug 3, 2017 · 3 min read

All big ideas start small. And often, the biggest innovations or ideas begin at the smallest companies.

For the third consecutive year, NRFtech featured a collection of startups in the “Tour of the Possible” program curated by Iterate Studio, a marketplace of startups indexing more than 162,000 companies focused on digital innovation.

NRF’s Tony Fontana takes a look at the 2017 class, each startup’s area of expertise and what they can bring to the table for catalyzing innovation in any organization.

Artificial Intelligence — By combining visuals with online behavioral data, this “AI-powered personal stylist” is built to help companies create intelligent retail optimization in three core areas: dynamic personalization, shoppable videos and image generation for garments and other merchandise.

AR and VR

NanoVR — Imagine a virtual brand ambassador interacting with customers inside a store, or a store window that showcases products and imagery without blocking merchandise. The “nanoscale precision” software is built to provide retailers with interfaces like these.

Theia Interactive — The company has made immersive VR experiences for several non-retail clients in the Northeast, bringing real renderings in architecture, engineering and construction to life. It could change the way store designers and merchandisers conceive the layout of retail stores, before and after shelves are stocked.

Big data and machine learning

Narvar — From order tracking and proactive customer communications to seamless returns, this turnkey solution keeps customers engaged from the buy-button to delivery. The platform also applies machine learning across billions of interactions to improve supply chain efficiencies, future transactions and customer experiences.

Persado — Powered by cognitive computing technologies, the platform leverages “emotionally tagged content” (images, words, phrases) in its database to help retailers understand which elements of a message work and how. The “cognitive content” approach helps automate marketing messages to deliver the right content across channels in a consistent brand voice and up to 23 different languages.

Sentiance — This machine learning and behavioral modeling platform uses first-party IoT sensor data to create highly specific and unique customer segments. The raw data, collected from smartphones, connected cars and similar devices, is obtained with explicit consumer consent and within compliance of global data protection regulations.

Qubole — Cloud infrastructure meets big data management in this platform, co-founded by members of the original Facebook Service Team, with the purpose of taking the pain out of data management by creating applications to streamline personalized experiences, consumer segmentation and more.

Chatbots — This platform does more than provide an enterprise solution to chatbot creation and management. It uses AI to help bots learn from conversations over time while also providing them with the “smarts” to let customer service know a more personal, “human” touch is needed.


Bossa Nova — Formed in February 2005 as a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, the robot roams a store collecting terabytes of data about the products already on the sales floor. By scanning products on the shelves, making a map of the store and helping employees keep track of where items are located, the technology underscores how humans and machines can work together to make educated inventory management decisions.

NRF Events

Unparalleled education and game-changing ideas from retail’s visionary leaders.


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The National Retail Federation is the world's largest retail trade association, representing all retail formats and channels of distribution.

NRF Events

Unparalleled education and game-changing ideas from retail’s visionary leaders.

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