I first wrote about the Sephora Accelerate program four years ago when it launched, and compared their model to that of other accelerators and incubators. Since then the program has grown and evolved to include a broader range of business sectors, countries and cohort members. Started by the Sephora Stands team in San Francisco that’s dedicated to social impact, Sephora Accelerate has since been embraced by Sephora globally, with start-ups winning a spot in the latest, exclusive cohort, coming from Canada, France, Brazil, Mexico, Australia and China. The list of start-ups, first announced publicly in this article, are below.
Criteria for selection include being a business with at least one female founder, having great vision, passion, a relevant background, at a minimum, a great prototype and initial formulation for testing, solving a need for which there aren’t many solutions currently, a sound business model and go-to-market strategy, and a meaningful social impact component.
I had the pleasure of interviewing 3 diverse and incredibly inspiring founders of different ages and nationalities that were just accepted into the program that starts in May. The program has grown with the latest cohort of 15 being the largest. 2 years ago, a third category of business was added, Sustainability, which includes ingredients, packaging and supply chain. The previous two include Technology, which includes hardware and software, and Merchandising, which includes products and services in color cosmetics, skincare, and fragrances. I was extremely impressed by the degree of sophistication and knowledge of the founders and how broadly their innovations and businesses can help people and the planet, above and beyond the cosmetics industry.
Sephora Accelerate falls within Sephora’s broader, multi-faceted, social impact Sephora Stands initiatives. The Accelerate program was designed to create a support network and business education that will help each business get to the next level. Participants develop relationships with other cohort members dealing with similar aspects of product development, merchandising, financing, supply chain, operations, business models, distribution, packaging, and ingredient sourcing. Combined with access to prior program alumni, these relationships will reap benefits, learning and other connections far into the future. The range of start-ups ran from early stage businesses not yet on the market, to more established businesses, already enjoying success.
There are 4 primary components of Sephora’s Accelerate program.
The 3 incredibly impressive women I interviewed from 3 different countries, all had very different and important business ideas. What follows is a brief description of each, to show the types of founders Sephora Accelerate supports. It also explains why they are so excited to be part of the program and what they expect to gain.
The company developed a natural, clean-label preservative extracted from mushrooms, for use in cosmetics and beauty products, replacing sulfates, surfactants and parabens. It prevents bacteria, yeast and mold in a safe and low-cost way. Natasha, who herself has a graduate degree in Biochemistry, is providing jobs for women with STEM educations.
Natasha is excited to be able to showcase her products to a range of vendors for added exposure and new application ideas, to learn from experts in the industry she would not otherwise have access to, and to compare experiences with the other women in the cohort.
Bread Beauty Supply is a hair care brand that serves women of color with naturally curly and coily hair with products that clean and relax hair naturally, without the use of chemicals.
Maeva is excited to learn more about all facets of her business from professionals, to further her prospects for new geographic markets beyond Australia, and to be part of a global group of amazing women that can inspire each other.
Ecologic Brands developed the world’s first paper bottle made from recycled cardboard as an alternative to standard plastic bottles. It’s a great and much-needed way to solve the mounting problem of plastic waste accumulating in oceans and landfills.
The eco.bottle® is already on the market, with a range of companies including L’Oreal, that uses it for their phytonutrient line, the first closed loop packaging solution on the market. The paper bottle uses L’Oreal’s own box waste to create the new eco-friendly packaging. Julie is looking forward to developing more opportunities and related ideas she’ll be exposed to as part of the program. As she so eloquently stated, the job of an entrepreneur is to expand your horizons every day and the Sephora Accelerate program will do that in spades.
What CMO’s Can Learn
Sephora is a very smart company. It’s best-in-class in many areas, and they know their customers better than almost any company I’ve observed. For years I’ve been teaching the Sephora Social Media Marketing Harvard Case to business school students and executives in global programs, and have followed their marketing and merchandising activities since it was written, to keep the case discussions current. Mobile Marketers identified Sephora, along with Amazon as the two top retailers globally in social media marketing.
The Sephora Accelerate program is what I call a quadruple win. It’s a win for Sephora because it’s great for its brand image to be supporting women-lead start-ups. It’s a win for the start-ups who gain valuable information and relationships that can significantly increase their chances of success. It’s a win for consumers because Sephora is helping bring products, ingredients, packaging and technology to market that are genuinely are better than what’s currently out there. Lastly, it’s a win for the planet and society by providing meaningful jobs and encouragement, and more environmentally friendly ways of getting beauty-related products and services to consumers.
The lessons for CMO’s are
Find meaningful CSR programs that fit with their brands and support their values, with a significant impact on consumers, society and the planet
Create broad scale awareness of these initiatives in an authentic way.
What follows is a brief description of each member of the new Sephora Accelerate Cohort, listed by category.
Ecologic Brands developed the world’s first paper bottle made from recycled cardboard, an environmental alternative to the standard plastic bottle. In a world where plastic bottles are accumulating in oceans and environments, their paper eco.bottle® offer consumers a real solution to solve the mounting waste problem.
Chinova Bioworks developed a natural, clean-label preservative extracted from mushrooms for use in the cosmetics and beauty industry. This ingredient is broad-spectrum against bacteria, yeast, and mold and can be customized to target individual producers’ antimicrobial needs while remaining cost competitive.
See Thru is disrupting how consumers connect with beauty and wellness products for good. They power radical transparency through instant, in-depth, and personalized education on products while their customers shop online.
La Luer offers a non-invasive at-home facial device that delivers a standard facial process, effectively detoxing, toning, lifting and infusing the skin with active ingredients.
Ascention is a self-care fragrance collection that helps people heal through the power of luxurious scent, the healing power of crystals and the setting of positive intentions.
Sagely Naturals infuses hemp-derived CBD into products making them effective, natural alternatives to traditional anti-stress, and anti-inflammatory pain relievers.
Green Barbès created an on-demand “micro-customization” approach that offers DIY all-natural skincare solutions allowing consumers to personalize their products based on their daily routine.
Médène offers customized essential oil blends based on a scientific algorithm to help consumers integrate oils into their daily habits as a natural solution for wellness.
Anagem supports growth for hair, lashes, brows and beards and is composed of 95% natural ingredients. Their formula has demonstrated efficacy backed by clinical research.
CARE Natural Beauty is a natural and organic certified makeup and skincare brand. Their products are 100% made in Brazil, ingredients are locally sourced, and packaging is thoughtfully designed and environmentally friendly, using only paper, glass and recyclable plastic.
Orna Makeup is a digitally-native brand founded by three sisters, focused on cruelty-free cosmetics that uses science to deliver smart personal care. Orna Makeup supports fair trade and conscious consumption, ensuring that their products meet the highest socially responsible standards.
Polvos Magicos makes organic superfood-based skincare products using locally sourced ingredients native to Mexico. The brand donates a percentage of its revenue to oceans’ conservancy projects.
The Tonik is a natural supplements brand bringing the convenience and benefits of natural health to the market via a fun approach. The brand believes that wellness comes from within, and that when you feel good you love yourself and love the skin you’re in. It wants to make healthy fun, convenient and sustainable.
Bread Beauty Supply is a hair care brand that is determined to better serve young women of color with natural curly and coily hair. Bread speaks to the Millennial and Gen Z audience, providing easy to understand products and hair routine kits for ‘naturals’ (non-chemically relaxed hair).
Paektu is a biotech company aiming to provide young women with healthy and natural skincare products, using lab cultured Cordyceps as a core ingredient. Cordyceps offer anti-aging, anti-oxidation, anti-radiation, anti-Inflammatory, and detoxification results when used on the skin.