Graduation day has arrived for the eight brands that have completed the Sephora Accelerate Incubator Program which started back in February. The program’s focus this year was on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) founders. The culminating event for the brands was pitch day at the end of May where each brand founder gave a formal presentation to a group of industry experts, investors, and senior-level Sephora leaders in an effort to unlock investment and scale their brands. A wide spectrum of investors were present at pitch day, from angel investors to venture capitalists to private equity. The 2021 brands include 54 Thrones, Eadem, Glory, Hyper Skin, lmania Beauty, Kulfi Beauty, ries, and Topicals.
The Accelerate program included onboarding/orientation, boot camp and presentation/planning, followed by pitch day and graduation day. I had the opportunity to speak with some of the founders and participants in this year’s program to better understand their experience and what we can expect next from their brands.
54 Thrones sources all of its ingredients from Africa
Christina Funke Tegbe, founder of 54 Thrones, created her company as an indulgent clean-beauty brand grown on African soil and ethically sourced. Her beauty collections pay homage to the many African cultures and evoke the essence of the continent. One of the hero products, African beauty butter, is loved by Oprah as one of her favorites and comes in many different product assortments. Tegbe said about the Sephora Accelerate program, “One of the most rewarding aspects was meeting the other program participants, and in particular the group of women founders from this year was especially amazing.” She discussed how having the access and opportunity to network with the group was very beneficial to her, in addition to getting advice and instruction from the many mentors in the program. Tegbe stated, “Sephora took decades of industry knowledge and packed it into six months for us.”
The Accelerate program included marketing lessons on brand strategy and DNA from Mark Ritson, a legend in the marketing industry with decades of experience in brand building. Ritson’s clients include Tatcha, Shiseido, De Beers, Benefit, Subaru, Johnson and Johnson to name a few. Additionally, for 13 years, he served as the in-house brand consultant for LVMH.
Tegbe discussed how after listening to Ritson’s marketing tips, she viewed her own brand differently and the key piece of advice she took away from that aspect of the program was to take pleasure in breaking the rules. Tegbe said, “Branding is key and this philosophy gave me the freedom to look at the brand differently.” Tegbe was confident in her pitch and was appreciative that Sephora put her in the room with interested investors to get the conversations started.
Hyper Skin is a brand rooted in multiculturalism
Hyper Skin is an easy, results-oriented skincare brand rooted in multiculturalism. According to Desiree Verdejo, CEO and founder of Hyper Skin, “We’re hyper-targeted on treating dark spots and discoloration on all skin tones, and enhancing glow delivering real results.” Verdejo’s participation in the program was supported by merchants from Sephora. The mentoring was key in building meaningful relationships and helpful with on-boarding and business aspects.
Additionally, the entire team that runs Accelerate is very dynamic and creates an environment of support across the many facets of launching a brand. Verdejo recalls that her natural inclination is to work on product and branding, but she had to learn to prioritize some other areas like building out a strong operations process in order to successfully launch and scale a brand. Program highlights included how to go about first hires and create accounting best practices. Mentors who have previously launched brands at Sephora were instrumental in breaking it down and keeping things simple.
On pitch day, Verdejo felt confident and comfortable conversing with the many investors who participated in the meeting. She stated, “While no one came with a blank check, investors truly understood the market and they were all very capable of supporting a start-up beauty brand.”
Kulfi Beauty is on a mission to empower products for self-expression
Priyanka Ganjoo, founder of Kulfi Beauty, described her brand by saying: “We bring joy to makeup with South Asian culture and provide products that empower self-expression.” The Sephora Accelerate program provided access to key merchants and other stakeholders in the company which was a tremendous help to Ganjoo. Speakers across many functions of the business like marketing and operations created an opportunity for tangible feedback for the brand. A key highlight for Ganjoo was hearing Aurora James speak to the founders about the 15% pledge which she established. The pledge is a call to action for major retailers to dedicate 15% of shelf space to Black owned businesses. The fireside chat between Artemis Patrick, global chief marketing officer of Sephora, and James included a discussion about what led her to start the 15% pledge. James also talked about her own experience as a fellow female brand founder of color.
Ganjoo believes the support from Sephora created a community of people that wanted the founders to succeed. Sephora knows the customers best and each brand knows its community best, so working together provides richer output. Ganjoo said, “Understanding the gaps with clients and then being able to fill in the gaps with products that make sense creates a great partnership.” The mentors of the Accelerate program were able to share personal anecdotes and stories about their own journey in launching a brand at Sephora which were, according to Ganjoo, “Both heartwarming and providing real world feedback.”
Pitch day felt like graduation, and although Ganjoo wished it was in person as opposed to virtual, Sephora curated a group of investors that had an interest in growing beauty brands which made the day very relevant for future growth. Investors understood the importance of keeping the brands consumer centric, building a loyal following and staying connected with the community.
The most challenging aspect of the program
The founders of the emerging brands that were interviewed agreed that the most challenging aspect of the Sephora Accelerate program was trying to find the bandwidth to continue to run your own business while participating in the highly intensive program. With that said, however, every brand also agreed that they would not have it any other way. The program was invaluable and will certainly help them succeed in growing and scaling their businesses.
While no specific launch days were announced, the brands were enthusiastic about becoming part of the Sephora family. The Accelerate program has supported the launch of more than 50 women-owned brands over its six year history. The focus on BIPOC owned brands this year furthers Sephora’s commitment to providing an inclusive environment for all shoppers.