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Living Proof, MIT Create Women’s Leadership Prize

The partnership will divide up to $100,000 between four women-led teams.

Living Proof is getting back to its roots for its latest partnership.

The hair care brand, which was bought by Unilever in 2016, is teaming up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for the school’s annual Solve initiative. The program, which began in 2015, provides challenges to annual crops of tech entrepreneurs, then connects them with Solve members for funding and support.

Called the Living Proof Prize: Women’s Leadership Solution, Living Proof’s prize will award up to $100,000 across up to four women-led teams that focus on economic prosperity, health, learning and sustainability.

This partnership commences this year, but Living Proof’s history with MIT goes back to the company’s inception.

“The brand was founded in 2005 by an unlikely combination of hairstylists and biotech scientists. On the science side, the team was led by Dr. Bob Langer, who is a professor at MIT,” said Zach Rieken, the brand’s chief executive officer. “Our approach was really around assembling world-class scientists from a range of fields really outside of beauty, so that we could look at everyday concerns from a unique and fresh perspective.”

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Given the growing importance of purpose in beauty shoppers’ purchasing decisions, Rieken said the school’s approaches to innovation also mirror Living Proof’s.

“We need to give back and create an impact in the world that goes beyond just our products. Our ethos has always been this idea of what we call science and action. In our case, it’s about solving the world’s most challenging hair problems using science and technology,” he said. “But within the case of MIT Solver, they’re using a very similar ethos, which is to use science and technology to solve some of the world’s largest social challenges.”

One of the problems Rieken hopes to mitigate includes the gender representation gaps in science. “According to the National Girls Collaborative, today, women only represent 28 percent of the science, technology, engineering or math workforce. These gender gaps are particularly high for some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs of the future in computer science and engineering,” he said. “We see this as an opportunity to advance women within the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.”

Living Proof’s workforce consists of 75 percent women, including its research and development department, which fuels the brand’s product pipeline with new technologies.

The brand is among those reaping the benefits of the boom in prestige hair care. “It’s a great time to be in prestige hair care,” Rieken said. “Since I joined the brand in 2019, we’ve nearly doubled our revenue, and are on a really fantastic growth trajectory. One of the key drivers of that is innovation.”

When Unilever bought Living Proof in 2016, the brand was said to reach overall net sales between $60 million and $75 million. Rieken also said international expansion added to the growth. “We’re seeing growth across all of our key channels, not only in our home market of North America, but in international markets like the U.K. and China, and we’ve significantly invested in brand awareness in the past year.”

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