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Ulta Beauty officially launches tech-focused venture fund

Illustration of mechanical robot arms holding a makeup brush, lipstick, and a mascara wand.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Ulta Beauty is joining the VC fray, officially launching its Prisma Ventures fund to invest $20 million in beauty and retail technology startups.

Why it matters: As tech innovations have become more vital to retail success, more players are rolling out their own venture funds to access and scale nascent technologies. (See Walmart, Home Depot).

  • "Innovation is key to evolve as a retailer, and it's key to keep delivering experiences for our guests that are differentiated," Agustina Sartori, Prisma Ventures' managing director tells Axios.

How it works: Prisma Ventures, which had a soft rollout late last year, targets startups in the seed to Series A stages, Sartori says.

  • “The purpose of the fund is investing in technology, not in product companies,” Sartori says. “We think that technology is embedded in the future of retail.”
  • Examples of ideal investments might include technology-powered custom beauty products or in-store experiences, companies using AR or VR, the metaverse or social commerce, she says.

Flashback: Prisma Ventures, announced at the company’s 2021 Investor Day, has invested in a handful startups over the last year. Sartori declined to disclose the size of investments, which have included:

  • (a B2B SaaS tool for AI analysis of customers' skin)
  • Adeptmind (an AI-powered e-commerce search engine for retailers)
  • Revea (a skincare company using personal analysis and machine learning to deliver tailored skincare)
  • LUUM (a lash extension robot)
  • ReStyle (a virtual hair try-on company)

What they’re saying: Sartori says it's not only about giving these startups access to capital. It’s also about strategically partnering with them to “create an environment where they can test and experiment and grow, with the support of the fund.”

  • “It's very much about tapping each other's knowledge, and leveraging all of these resources to really define the next chapter of retail and beauty," she says.

State of play: The innovations being co-created with the fund are about accessing customers that may be outside of Ulta’s current customers, Sartori says.

  • She adds that it’s also a way to adapt to younger generations' shifting behaviors.
  • They tend to be the early adopters of these technologies, she says, and they’re much more willing to try and experience these kinds of disruptions.

The bottom line: The fund is “like a gateway to a larger world, not only in beauty, but really innovation technology in the retail space,” Sartori tells Axios.

  • “It's not under anyone's control to actually define how it is the world evolves,” Sartori says. “Innovation is coming, technology is coming, and it's a matter of, do we want to be part of that?”
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