Getting Down to Business with L’Oréal USA’s Women in Digital Winners

There comes a point when every “new” campaign to nurture startups either matures itself or fades away. L’Oréal USA’s Women in Digital looks like it plans to stick around.

Now in its fourth year, the annual program continues to provide mentorship to three woman-led startups, who also get a shot at running pilots with the cosmetics giant. Though the matter of diversity and gender in tech has been a frequent media topic this year, the disparity persists in the community—but some inroads are being made.

The winners of this year’s NEXT Generation Awards from the Women in Digital program are Sian Morson, founder and CEO of Cast Beauty; Rachel Tipograph, founder and CEO of MikMak; and Katherine Ryder, founder and CEO of Maven.

More mobile-first and consumer-facing companies were among the applicants this year, says Rachel Weiss, vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship for L’Oréal USA and chair of the program. That compares with last year’s entrants, who were heavily into analytics and enterprise software. But beyond a shift in focus among the hopefuls, Weiss says Women in Digital can now point to the efforts of some graduates for validation. “Now we have a pipeline of women who are mentoring each other and have either sold their businesses, or pivoted their business and are on to something new,” she says.

New York-based alumnus Poptip, for example, was acquired in 2014 by Palantir Technologies for undisclosed terms.

In prior years, the winners from the program were presented at a soiree with celebrities such as Aimee Mullins and Olivia Munn.

Last week, though, the winners came together at a closed event just for L’Oréal marketers and executives. Teams responsible for the company’s different brands got the chance to meet with the winners, Weiss says, to explore the possibility of working together in the future. A grand prize winner is guaranteed a pilot with one of L’Oréal’s brands.

The founders chosen this year all share an ingrained wish to build their own companies. Cast Beauty’s Morson says she comes from an entrepreneurial family. Her app uses weather data to give personalized skin and hair care recommendations, and help users decide which products to buy.

While working in the corporate scene she decided she wanted full control of her endeavors. “I was empowered to think in an entrepreneurial way, even within an established corporate structure,” she says.

Morson started her career as a project manager in advertising, and a project in the early days of mobile gave her the nudge to branch out on her own. At the time, smartphones were just starting to emerge and the ad industry had yet to embrace mobile devices as mediums to reach customers. “This was before the iPhone came out; of course that changed everything,” she says.

Cast Beauty developed out of a personal need, Morson says, to know the effects and changes the weather might have on her skin and hair. Seeing that other women shared this issue prompted her efforts to find a technology-driven solution.

Ambition is not always enough to build up a company. Ryder, who as a journalist worked with The Economist, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker in New York and overseas in Singapore and London, called moving to foreign cities and getting established in those locales an entrepreneurial act. “At a certain point, I wanted to build something rather than write about what other people were building,” she says.

However, Ryder says her first attempt at starting a business, in the Chinese travel sector, “failed miserably.” Despite that letdown, she believed she could create a company—with a bit more experience. She worked in venture capital with Index Ventures, learning how to fundraise, and also fleshed out her personal network of entrepreneurs and investors. “Some of them are investors in Maven,” she says.

Maven is a telehealth platform that lets women have video appointments with doctors, nurses, physical therapists, nutritionists, and other practitioners.

Getting into digital health, Ryder says, came from the realization that many … Next Page »

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