L’Oréal – Hacking the science behind beauty

Science and innovation are at the core of L’Oréal’s business growth strategy. Through its Research and Innovation (R&I) division, L’Oréal invests heavily in scientific research on skin and hair, the creation of new personalised experiences and environmentally sustainable solutions. For the number one beauty company in the world, the end goal is to create cosmetic products that meet a diversity of consumer needs and desires.

Today, an estimated 4,000 researchers worldwide work in L’Oréal’s R&I division. The true reach of L’Oréal’s scientific expertise, however, extends beyond these internal efforts and in fact encompasses a strong peripheral network of external partnerships. Over the past eight years in Singapore, L’Oréal R&I has built a world-class research programme on Asian skin and hair biology. This includes over 20 external collaborations, of which 60% have been with labs at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

L’Oréal has provided SketchOn (winner of L’Oréal Innovation Runway 2017) with market access to pilot their business models with some of L’Oréal’s brands.

Most recently, L’Oréal has been working with startups to co-create innovative solutions for the beauty industry. It’s a win-win partnership – startups gain access L’Oréal’s niche expertise and market, while L’Oréal gets to leverage disruptive innovations conceived from dynamic startup ecosystems around the world. This includes Singapore, which has been established as a leading startup hub for startups to grow, scale and internationalise.

John Dangerfield (middle) from Austrianova, winner of L’Oreal Innovation Runway 2017 with Mark Phong (left), R&I Asia Director of Advanced Research Labs and Business Development, L’Oréal, and Henric Sark (right), former Country Manager, L’Oréal Singapore

The inaugural L’Oréal Innovation Runway Challenge was launched during the 2017 Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH) to target startups and small enterprises. In line with L’Oréal R&I’s ambition to translate nascent ideas into impactful business opportunities, the event was successful in creating partnerships with several startups, including competition winners SketchOn from Korea and AustriaNova from Singapore.

Part of the organising team from L’Oréal R&I Singapore

In 2018, L’Oréal R&I organised the second edition of the L’Oréal Innovation Runway Challenge alongside key partners Startup SG – an initiative by Enterprise Singapore – and NUS Enterprise. This year, the competition focused on solutions that would impact the lives of consumers in South Asia, namely in the fields of performance materials and products, sustainable innovation, and personalised beauty.

(Left to Right) Osman Shahi (Senior Manager, Open Research and Advanced Research, L’Oréal India) with Ezhil Subbian from String Bio Pvt Ltd

Mark Phong, from L’Oreal R&I Asia Director of Advanced Research Labs and Business Development, giving an opening speech

The 2018 L’Oréal Innovation Runway Challenge received over 120 applications from 36 countries, with 11 startups ultimately selected by internal L’Oréal judges to participate in the semifinals and finals thereafter in Singapore. The finals were held during the 2018 Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology (SWITCH) at Marina Bay Sands, and were graced by Singapore Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, as well as France Secretary of State for Digital Affairs, Mounir Mahjoubi.

Chan Chun Sing, Singapore Minister of Trade of Industry

Mounir Mahjoubi France Secretary of State for Digital Affairs

After two intensive rounds of onstage pitching, startups Sequential and String Bio emerged as co-winners of the second L’Oréal Innovation Runway Challenge. As part of their prize, both startups got to automatically progress to the finals of SLINGSHOT@SWITCH, an annual deep tech pitching competition powered by Startup SG held concurrently at SWITCH 2018.

For startup Sequential, their winning solution was a proprietary face mask that could analyse DNA and skin microorganisms, and generate a personalised skincare report for the user. String Bio, on the other hand, developed a sustainable technology to convert methane into value-added products such as proteins and monomers. L’Oréal is currently exploring possible co-development projects with both startups to disrupt the beauty industry.

Oliver Worsley from Sequential, Winner of The L’Oréal Innovation Runway 2018