Undergraduate students compete in national L'Oréal Brandstorm competition

L'Oreal teams in New York

(l to r)  Team Fortifly: Marjorie Went, mentor (CBE), Emily Graham (ChemE), Serene Kuramarohit (Chem), Jocelyn Su (ChemE); Team Air: Rizal Zakaria (ChemE), Irvan Torbett (IEOR), and Alvin Gunawan (ChemE)

May 24, 2019

Two talented undergraduate teams, with members from the College of Chemistry and Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (IEOR), competed in this year's USA national L'Oréal Brandstorm competition in New York City in April. Both teams made it to the final round, with a third place tie out of approximately 150 teams nationwide. The first and second place winners will go onto France to compete in the finals later this year.

Jeffrey Reimer, Professor and Chair of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) commented,  “I am not surprised to see our students do so well. Cal students are creative, engaged, and courageous in driving contemporary chemical engineering into unconventional industries.”

The two teams were each made up of groups of three students. Team Fortifly, an all-women's team, included Emily Graham and Jocelyn Su from CBE along with Serene Kuramarohit from Chemistry. Team Air, an all-men's team, included Alvin Gunawan and Rizal Zakaria from CBE and Irvan Torbett from IEOR.

With the tagline, "The ultimate innovation competition to disrupt the future of beauty," L'Oréal Brandstrom is a worldwide competition that empowers young scientists to share their groundbreaking ideas in both medicine and beauty. Created 27 years ago, L’Oréal Brandstorm has grown to become one of the world’s biggest skin care science innovation competitions for students, with participants from 65 countries. The competition is now open to students in every country and every field. This year the competition attracted over 34,000 participants, who worked in groups of three undergraduate students from the same, or different schools. The teams had six months to imagine a concept and work on its feasibility.

One requirement was each team had to choose a mentor from their home school. Team Fortifly chose to work with Dr. Marjorie Went, a CBE lecturer who is a scientist, educator, and environmentalist. Team Air asked Dr. Keith Alexander, Product Development Program Director within CBE, to work as their mentor because of his extensive background in product management. Both teams did their own research and development utilizing the mentors only for occasional feedback. Jocelyn Su and Irvan Torbett stopped by the College's news office recently to talk about their experiences with the competition.

Undergraduate team at L'Oreal Competition in New York

Team Fortifly at the L'Oreal headquarters in New York in April. (Photo courtesy Team Fortifly)

Team Fortifly Project: Sustainable products with technology to address market gap in travel skin care

"All three of us are interested in the beauty industry," Jocelyn states enthusiastically. "One of the reasons I am in CBE is to be able to eventually work in the skin care science industry. We relaunched the Aurum Cosmetics club this year for Berkeley students interested in cosmetics, chemistry and product development."

She continues, "Emily, Serene and I met up through the club. Aniket Majumdar (B.S. '19, ChemE), who had been in the contest a couple of years ago and made it all the way to the finals in Paris, talked to us about her experience. We looked at the L'Oréal  competition video for this year and thought we should go ahead and form a group. We're all big fans of L'Oréal. The company is innovative and unafraid to try new things."

The women spent time brainstorming about what part of the industry they should focus on. They realized the travel industry is an untapped market and came up with the concept of a skin care kit for airplane travel. Serene is very interested in sustainable design and wanted the product to be fully sustainable and compostable. They developed the "fortifly" name when thinking about skin care and travel words. 

Once they had their idea in place, the next step was to create a pitch video and send it on to L'Oréal to enter the contest. "We were really excited when we heard we had made it into the regional presentations and would be going to New York," Jocelyn commented.  "L'Oréal paid for the trip. It was amazing. The hotel was extremely luxurious and we were able to stay an extra day and travel around the City to see some of the sites and a play.

"Personally I really enjoyed the entrepeneurship and marketing experience. We were paired up with Brigit Hellings, an assistant vice-president of Brand Business Development. She helped us with the marketing approach before we did our final presentation. She was really interesting to work with. I think the beauty industry is very exciting and worth pursuing as a career."

"This experience was extraordinary for the teams' learning and development in both technical and professional areas," Team Fortifly's mentor, Marjorie Went, a CBE lecturer interested in sustainability commented. "I was so impressed during the presentations that all of these groups of young people presenting were clearly telling a major corporation that they wanted sustainable products."

Team Air

Team Air in New York. (Photo courtesy Team Air)

Team AIR Project: Algae-based membrane packaging to replace plastics, delivering a sustainable and aesthetically pleasing solution

"We found out about the contest from Aniket Majumdar, the 2017 finalist in Paris," Irvan states. "When we decided to team up for the competition we really didn't know what direction we wanted to go. First, we thought about AI/data analytics. We spent quite a bit of time analyzing previous presentations and decided that wasn't a good approach. Interestingly, we also though about a more genetic approach utilizing 23andMe. One of the other teams at the presentation did go that route. We didn't wind up using it because we weren't convinced we knew enough about the subject area.

"We were running out of time and realized we should focus on a product experience. We basically 'locked ourselves in a room' and came up with a single use, sustainable packaging approach that was reminiscent of the tapioca in boba tea. After we developed the prototype, we met with Keith Alexander who was helpful in mentoring on the branding for the product. We sent our product pitch to New York in the 'nick of time.'"

The team didn't think they were going to be finalists. They weren't really concerned about winning. They felt the experience of building their team had been enough for them and if that was as far as they got they would still come out winners. And then they found out they were going to New York. 

Irvan laughs, "We were the only team in New York who were all engineers. When we first met with our L'Oréal mentor Asst. VP of Global Marketing Lynn Fischer, she said to us, 'You guys are too engineering. This won't work.' She was great. She was only supposed to meet with us for a couple of hours but moved her schedule around and gave us more time to work on our marketing. One of the things she helped us with was realizing that our product could work really well in the Asian market.

"We spent three days in New York learning about marketing.  We were literally practicing up to the last moment before we went into our presentation. By the time we were done we had covered all the steps of product development. Initially, we didn't have any experience beyond building the product so it was an amazing learning experience."

Irvan continues, "The fact that we got all the way to New York was such a surprise for us. We didn't want to make it about winning. It was about the experience; being in the moment. I'm graduating this semester and now plan on applying to L'Oréal for a job after I graduate. They are an amazing company."

L'Oreal founder quote

Competition video


Team Fortifly pitch

L'Oreal Brandstorm competition Team Fortifly pitch

Team Air pitch

Team AIR pitch L'Oreal competition video