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Johnson & Johnson is proud of its heritage — not many companies top 120 years. But make no mistake: Its eyes are firmly fixed on the future.

The parent company of well-known brands, such as Neutrogena, Aveeno, Clean & Clear, Band-Aid and many others, announced the official debut of its Digital Beauty Innovation group during a session at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The announcement is a bit of a formality — the multi-disciplinary team has been unofficially operating for about a couple of years, and already has a win under its belt.

“Two years ago, we launched the light therapy mask, which was a first in acne treatment,” Sebastien Guillon, president of global beauty for Johnson & Johnson, told WWD. The project was a collaboration with skin-care device company La Lumiere. It was also one of the first projects to come out of the then-unofficial, ragtag technology group.

The newly christened DBI team formed out of some corporate introspection. “We realized that, for years and years, we were primarily selling lotions and creams, basically products in a jar or in a bottle,” he continued. “But with today’s technology, we are able to bring new services to our consumers and offer full services that go beyond the jar. That’s why we decided to create the digital beauty innovation group.”

He describes a growing need to sell product and solutions together, and to bring full service to consumers. Now a bona fide subgroup within the organization, the team is focusing on three key areas: skin diagnosis, adherence and devices and digital technologies. The work can range from developing guidance and coaching, to assessing potential tech start-up partners.

To help fill the funnel, Johnson & Johnson kicked off a little friendly competition a few weeks ago called The QuickFire Challenge. A program managed through its JLabs department, the latest event was the first time the contest was held for the company’s beauty business.

According to Guillon, “the QuickFire challenge [aims] to engage with start-ups, which can really help drive new skin-care technologies and focus on the three different elements.” He and his new/old DBI group have been impressed with the talent and the work they’ve seen so far.

“We feel that this is a growing area, with lots of start-ups that have great technologies, but don’t necessarily know how to commercialize it, don’t have the funding to do the right clinical [trials], all the data that make their products and services more relevant, or don’t necessarily have the right brands to support it,” the executive said. “So that’s where we feel we have a strong collaboration that we can get out of it, and it can be like a mutual win for both the start-up and Johnson & Johnson.”

For Guillon, now’s the perfect time. Technology’s taking an ever-expanding role within beauty, and consumers are more open to those types of solutions. Plus, more start-ups are paying attention to the beauty space, ensuring a healthy pipeline of potential partners.

The multifunctional group falls under the auspices of the company’s global beauty department. It relies on five core members, but it’s nimble, expanding on a project-by-project basis across departments to draw from a variety of expertise as needed. The roster includes professionals from many walks of J&J life, including marketing people, research and development, and science and supply chain. Some work domestically in the U.S., while others come from as far as Asia.

What they have in common is DBI’s mission and point of view of technology.

“What drives us always is really putting the consumers at the center of our thinking, and that’s where sometimes technology is a bit difficult in beauty,” Guillon said. He’s not interested in tech, just for the sake of tech. “We start by understanding the consumer ‘problematic’ — what are their skin needs? What are their frustrations? What are their unmet needs? — and then use technology as a solution, not as the objective itself.”

“It’s very urgent for us to set ourselves for the future,” he said. “Maybe we should have done it earlier, but I think it’s the right moment to do so. And the launch and the success of the light therapy mask actually confirmed it…consumers were actually expecting such innovations.”

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