Innovate or hibernate? Beauty tech start-up developing AI hair analysis to avoid COVID-19 slump

By Amanda Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

Skintelligent develops AI-powered hair analysis tool. GettyImages
Skintelligent develops AI-powered hair analysis tool. GettyImages

Related tags: beauty tech, AI, COVID-19

A Singapore-based beauty tech start-up has been using the downtime from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to develop an AI-powered hair analysis tool which it believes will be in demand when the market recovers from the outbreak.

Founded in 2019, Skintelligent is the brainchild of founder and CEO Eleanor Jones, a former executive with the Coca Cola Company.

The start-up’s first product was an AI-enabled skin diagnostic tool that enables consumers to get personalised skin recommendations by analysing the skin from a simple selfie.

Since the start of the outbreak, Skintelligent has observed a slowdown in business as companies everywhere tighten the purse strings on investments.

Jones told CosmeticsDesign-Asia​ that Skintelligent was faced with a choice: hibernate or innovate?

“If you are a larger company that has the cash flow to survive, maybe you pull back some of the investments and be cautious – but you will still be around in six or 12 months. For the start-ups… that don't have the reserves of a large company, it's really difficult because this period will definitely be the graveyard of a lot of promising companies simply because of timing.”

Jones continued: “As founder you have to decide whether to pause and hibernate the business and wait to come back online when things improve or continue to innovate and push through this period.”

With the additional time on their hands, the team has decided to move into a new domain and is currently working on developing a hair analysis tool.

“We now have a pretty reliable AI algorithm covering hair type and length and we're working next on hair texture. What we found is that a lot knowledge of how your build reliable AI to diagnosed skin is relevant for hair. That's kind of a new frontier we have been working on with some of this lockdown time,” ​said Jones.

However, she admitted that there are risks involved with this decision.

“It's a risky choice. You don't know when things are going to come back if you will have customers that are willing to sign on. You don't know how long this period is going to last, there's a lot of uncertainty and questions that come with that.”

Skintelligent is working alongside LeQuanto, a Singapore based company specialising in predictive analytics in various industry applications using statistical modelling as well as advancing machine and deep learning.

Currently, the firm is working to take the completed AI model and build a consumer-facing solution.

Jones estimated that the company may have a product that is ready to go to market within the next four to eight weeks.

Digital shift

Jones believes COVID-19 will further accelerate the shift towards e-commerce and “reshape the digital economy”.

“In respect to beauty, e-commerce – which has traditionally been a place for replenishment – will increasingly become the sole channel for some people as a means of product discovery.”

This change will be aided by the potential changes in brick-and-mortar retail.

“After [COVID-19], you will have people that will still be cautious of retail environments... and the role of retail will need to change and become more experiential, but not in a way that will compromise hygiene concerns,” ​said Jones.

In the long term, she expects there will be more demand for beauty tech solutions as e-commerce becomes more pervasive.

“The occasions people will shop online will change so there will be a role for beauty tech for different solutions to help navigate that personalisation process. There is a period of paralysis where people will not make investments in beauty tech but in the mid to long term, that shift will hold true.

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