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Oct 20, 2017

L'Oreal ramps up digital beauty efforts with Paris startup program

The logo of French cosmetics group L'Oreal is seen in front of the Arc de Triomphe during a public event in Paris

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PARIS — L'Oreal (LRLCY.PK), the world's biggest cosmetics company, wants to see more beauty tech like sensory hair brushes that tell you how to care for your hair, and skin patches that let you know how much sun you are getting.

So it said on Friday it was launching a programme of startup collaborations in Paris as it ramps up digital investments and seeks out new beauty products like its "smart" hairbrushes.

L'Oreal makes an ever greater slice of sales online and has rolled out services and items for tech-savvy consumers, such as a phone app for virtual make-up tests.

The French group said it was looking to develop more inventions at a site for startup companies in Paris, where 10 to 12 firms will work on projects with L'Oreal every year.

"The world of beauty has already become very digitalized ... this will allow us go even further than what we do today," L'Oreal Chairman and Chief Executive Jean-Paul Agon said, at a reconverted 1920s railway depot in Paris that now houses a startup campus.

Known as "Station F" and launched by billionaire businessman Xavier Niel, it will now have a L'Oreal workshop.

Agon did not say how much L'Oreal had invested so far in startup ventures and online development, but said the group's budget for all things digital was growing fast.

L'Oreal now spends 35 per cent of its media budget on digital campaigns and had recruited 1,700 people to work in this area, he said. Five years ago staffing in this section was closer to 150.

L'Oreal derives about seven per cent of its revenues — which totalled 13.4 billion euros in the first half of the year — from online sales, up from just over five per cent in 2015. It has not disclosed online growth targets.

The company has already invested in London's Founders Factory, a so-called startup incubator, last year, and it has its own innovation programme in San Francisco.

Products developed there include an electronic UV skin patch that measures exposure to the sun.

Aside from seeking new technology, such as developments in artificial intelligence or voice recognition software, L'Oreal will also work with startups developing new beauty products, be it creams or makeup, the company said.

L'Oreal's push comes as Paris seeks to overtake London as a leading European tech centre for investors and inventors, in a "startup nation" championed by France's pro-business President Emmanuel Macron.

"We're also happy to be contributing to that project," Agon said. L'Oreal is France's fourth-largest listed company.