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Time to innovate

23 February 2024

Logistics Matters editor Simon Duddy speaks to Wincanton head of W2 Claire Charlton to get the lowdown on Wincanton's one-of-a-kind collaborative innovation programme.

WINCANTON LAUNCHED W2 Labs back in 2017, so has gained very significant experience in developing logistics-focused start-ups. I asked Wincanton’s head of W2 Claire Charlton what makes a high-quality entry.

Claire explains: “Each start-up has only five minutes to make their pitch. For me, the people who can pitch simply work best, because while tech can be quite complicated, those that bring the problem they are solving to life do best. People think innovation is about ideas, but it’s really about delivery and solving problems.”

It’s a tough task for entrants, but Wincanton’s partner L Marks is supportive, providing acting coaches to the people pitching, in our industry’s very own ‘Dragon’s Den’.

It’s not only about the start-ups though, Wincanton contributes to the success of the programme by choosing the right themes. This year, the competition is focused on robotics, digital transport, and security & resilience.

Claire continues: “It starts with us because the programme needs to be aligned to our strategy and solve a customer or industry problem. There needs to be an operational test bed for the solution, it can’t be theoretical. If we get this right, then the start-ups have a fighting chance.

“The key questions start-ups should ask are: What problem am I solving? What do I need from Wincanton? How do I define the success I want to deliver?”

It’s very much a two way street, as Claire goes on to explain. “The key thing I’ve learned is the power that you can have if you put a structure to innovate in place and open up as an organisation. It’s about exploring the power of collaboration. W2 stands for Wincanton squared – the power of two ie collaboration. I think Wincanton is the only 3PL to have a programme like this.”

W2 gives Wincanton a structure to develop and test ideas. As well as the labs, there is the W2 partner network, where the 3PL collaborates with its bigger suppliers and also trade bodies and academia. Companies in the partner network include some very major players such as Oracle and Microsoft.

For example, Wincanton is a partner with Connected Places Catapult which is running the Freight Innovation Fund, which is funded by the Department for Transport to the tune of £7 million. At the time of writing, Cohort 2 of this scheme was almost ready to launch, with Wincanton acting as a mentor in the competition. The third strand of Wincanton’s collaborative approach to tech is its innovation centre in Corby, which has received over 5,000 visitors.

One of the most significant entries to come through the W2 Labs programme is oneVASTwarehouse. The idea was born through the Labs in 2019, with VAST standing for Virtual Access to Storage and Transport.

Claire says: “The website connects buyers and sellers of warehouse space, and is now a key part of the business.”

Another is Recruiter, from a start-up called ThriveMap, which came through in 2021. This enables Wincanton to use digital tools to streamline the recruitment process.

“The traditional recruitment process takes weeks, and you can get a 40% dropout because people apply for numerous warehouse roles at a time,” explains Claire. 

“Recruiter completely digitises the recruitment process, so a candidate can apply at 1am, say if they are on nights. They will be sent a link with an online assessment, which gives people a digital day in the life of the role, and asks job-relevant questions, such as selecting which customer orders are packed correctly. People then get a score, and if they score well they get an automatic job offer. We can hire in 24 hours, and because they’ve seen a day in the life of the warehouse, they know what they are getting into so it helps with retention as well.”

It is interesting to see that working with start-ups is a key part of the strategy for Wincanton, and Claire sees it as a win-win both for the 3PL and for the tech innovators. 

“L Marks is carrying out research with King’s College London looking at the value created by labs programmes, such as whether start-ups tend to get more funding as a result of taking part. We are keen to develop the scheme and we’d love to see your entries this year.”

Applications close at 23:59 BST on Sunday, 3rd March 2024. For more information, visit www.w2labs.com