L’Oréal, the world’s number one cosmetics group, underwent a digital facelift a few months ago. At the centre of this digital transformation are a series of open innovation initiatives, including the Connected Beauty Incubator (CBI), a place where the group’s experts and budding young starts from Silicon Valley devise digital tools for connected beauty.
In April 2014, Lubomira Rochet joined L’Oréal as Chief Digital Officer and member of the Executive Committee as part of the group’s plan to step up its digitalisation. Rochet soon implemented training and e-learning courses and immersion programmes whereby some of the group’s executives are regularly invited to spend a few days with digital natives or in startups to learn about new organisation models.
But this isn’t the first time L’Oréal has collaborated with startups. A few weeks before Rochet arrived, it launched the Connected Beauty Incubator, an incubator based in Silicon Valley where scientists, researchers and developers from partner groups or startups work on connected beauty projects. But it’s not about looking for a molecule to make your eyelashes longer or your hair silkier, but thinking up digital tools that will improve the customer experience.
Data scientists, biologiSTS AND UX SPECIALISTS
“We noticed that more and more things are connected, as our clients have. So to invent new products, L’Oréal picked up on this trend by setting up a technology incubator that doesn’t just focus on technology.
In an interview with L’Usine Digitale, Guive Balooch, who has a degree in molecular biology and is now Vice President of the Incubator, explains that he set up an agile, pluri-disciplinary team made up of around a dozen technical and scientific experts who work with both the L’Oréal R&I, i.e. thousands of highly-specialised researchers, chemists and IT experts, and with young digital talents, resulting in a lean startup-type organisation. It was Balooch who decided on the main strategic focuses of a dozen projects being developed by the Connected Beauty Incubator , but his aim is to inspire his staff to innovate and by giving them as much leeway as possible.
“A lot of young entrepreneurs work with us, not because we’re L’Oréal, but because of the project we’re working on, and because we have this incubator. We treat them like partners, not suppliers. We try to co-develop with them.”
Smartphone, smartphone ON THE WALL, WHO IS THE FAIREST OF THEM ALL?
The first app produced by the incubator is Makeup Genius, a virtual mirror that allows users to virtually try out the brand’s cosmetics. The make-up simulator uses augmented reality technologies based on algorithms which can faithfully reproduce textures, shine and colours.
To develop the app, L’Oréal worked with Image Metrics, a California-based startup specialising in film animation. Guive Balooch explains that this methodology is typical of the way the incubator works:
“We asked ourselves what sort of scientific expertise we needed and then looked for people who have it.”
Other examples of open innovation:
Photo credit: Phil Campbell – an evening playing ‘smartphone’ pub quiz with the exeter twitterati! / Flickr.com / Licence CC BY 2.0