What Canadian Beauty Entrepreneur Lisa Mattam Learned at Sephora’s Accelerate Incubator

This spring, Sephora held its inaugural Accelerate program, an innovative initiative to provide resources and support to female founders of beauty start-ups, with the objective of helping them “design the future of beauty.”

A cohort of eight women entrepreneurs were chosen to take part in the week-long “bootcamp” in San Francisco in April, focusing their time on brand brainstorming, workshopping and refining, all with the guidance of senior execs from Sephora as mentors. The women also had the opportunity to pitch their products to the retailer’s merchandising and innovation teams.

Toronto’s Lisa Mattam, the former pharmaceutical executive behind Sahajan, an Ayurvedic-inspired skincare brand, was the sole Canadian in the bunch. We caught up with her to find out exactly what she learned from the beauty retail disruptor.

Here, five key takeaways from Sephora’s Accelerate program:


Lisa Mattam, founder of Sahajan


1. Refine Your Brand’s Story

Mattam’s main project throughout the Accelerate program was to tighten the brand messaging around Sahajan. She worked with skincare and branding experts at Sephora, who helped her better tell the Sahajan story and guided her through the process of conducting focus groups to find out exactly which wording resonated with her target customers.

“Learn how to differentiate yourself: Who is your product for? Why would people choose you? How do you elevate yourself from the clutter? What is the connection to you?” says Mattam. “Now, there is such an emphasis on brand founders, so the consumers’ connection to you becomes more important, particularly when it is so competitive.”

Manufactured in Canada, each Sahajan product was formulated from scratch, with input from two Ayurvedic doctors


2. Plan to Grow

Entrepreneurial success requires more than wishful thinking. Creating a realistic timeline of goals and milestones can help keep your progress on track.

“I went into this with the goal of creating a global beauty brand. Sephora helped me figure out how to align the brand for growth, in terms of what the next products would be and also how we look at collections. This really helped me frame out what the next couple of years would look like.”


3. Build Your Network

Start-up life doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavour. Cultivate a trusted “support system” of contacts you can call upon for everything from big-picture wisdom to practical problem-solving.

“I hope to continue to learn from the women who were in the cohort. We were in the trenches together, but we have all taken different approaches. I work in my tiny office at Don Mills in Toronto, and this brought me closer to the start-up community. Now, I feel like I have a trusted group of people who can give me insight.”


4. Find a Supportive Mentor

The right advisor has experience that can help you to grow your business faster while avoiding pitfalls. Mattam found that one-on-ones with her mentor helped her better appreciate how her previous career in the pharmaceutical industry—a detail she had underplayed—actually makes Sahajan unique.

“We’ll continue with our mentors until the end of the year. I had a mentor from Sephora Canada, Marisa Caruso, the director of merchandising, skincare and hair, who gave me a ton of feedback throughout the process. The level of insight was unparalleled.”


5. Perfect Your Elevator Pitch

In a world where stories are told in 140 characters or less, being succinct about what sets you apart from the competition is more important than ever.

“My mentors would ask me, ‘Why did you do this? Why did you do that?’ I learned to really refine our message in a way that articulates why Sahajan is unique and why someone would be interested in it. It was an amazing process, and it took months.”