Wal-Mart's Tech Incubator Hires Co-Founder of Rent the Runway

(Bloomberg) -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s technology incubator, part of the company’s bid to expand beyond brick-and-mortar retail, hired a co-founder of Rent the Runway to oversee its first startup.

Jennifer Fleiss, who stepped down from the online clothing-rental service earlier this year, will lead an outfit called Code Eight, which will develop “highly personalized, one-to-one shopping experiences,” according to a statement on Monday. The executive remains a board member at Rent the Runway, which she helped start in 2009.

Wal-Mart’s tech incubator, called Store No. 8, was launched in March to identify trends that are reshaping the shopping experience, including virtual reality, robotics and personalized shopping. The goal is to have a fast-moving, separate entity to spot emerging technologies that can be developed and used across Wal-Mart. It’s part of a broader push into e-commerce under Marc Lore, who has brought fresh talent and tactics to the world’s biggest retailer since Wal-Mart bought his company Jet.com for $3.3 billion last summer.

Fleiss and fellow Harvard Business School graduate Jennifer Hyman have raised about $190 million in venture capital for Rent the Runway, which began as an online-only clothing-rental service eight years ago. More recently, it moved into the physical space with its own stores. It also has a partnership with Neiman Marcus to open boutiques inside some branches of the Dallas-based luxury retailer.

Fashion has been a focal point of Wal-Mart’s e-commerce push. The company has acquired women’s apparel seller ModCloth and is in talks to buy men’s clothing startup Bonobos Inc. for about $300 million, a person familiar with the matter has said. Amazon.com Inc. has also moved aggressively into selling fashion, aiming to nurture a reputation as a destination that’s trendy, not just cheap and convenient.

Store No. 8 takes its name from an early Wal-Mart location where founder Sam Walton would test out new ideas.