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Professor’s AI technology startup acquired by global cosmetics company Shiseido

Associate professor Raymond Fu is the founder of Giaran, Inc., a startup that spun out from his research lab that provides leading technology in artificial intelligence. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In 2016, associate professor Raymond Fu founded Giaran Inc., a company that leverages advanced artificial intelligence technology developed in his Northeastern University lab with the goal of providing an interactive virtual experience for consumers to find and try on cosmetics products.

On Tuesday, Shiseido Americas Corporation—a subsidiary of the leading global cosmetics company Shiseido Company, Limited—announced it had acquired Giaran. The companies said the partnership will advance Giaran’s beauty simulation technology and transform the consumer experience by taking personalized beauty to the next level.

“This is definitely a big achievement for Giaran and the whole team. It’s a win-win situation for both sides.”

Raymond Fu associate professor, founder of Giaran Inc.

Fu, an internationally known expert in AI, holds joint appointments in the College of Engineering and the College of Computer and Information Science. He called the acquisition an “exciting move for Giaran” and underscored that both companies share the same vision of deepening relationships with consumers and evolving product- and consumer-centric innovation. Giaran’s current technology includes a virtual makeup try-on tool as well as color matching and personalized recommendations via mobile, tablet, and desktop devices.

“This is definitely a big achievement for Giaran and the whole team,” Fu said on Tuesday. “It’s a win-win situation for both sides. Giaran can provide state-of-the-art AI technology to benefit Shiseido’s business development and help engage more customers, and it’s great for us because Shiseido will provide a much larger platform for our technology.”

“Raymond and the Giaran team have created truly novel AI technologies for cosmetic applications, and we are thrilled to welcome them to the Shiseido family,” said Marc Rey, president and CEO of Shiseido Americas.

Giaran is a spinout of Fu’s lab at Northeastern—the Synergetic Media Learning Laboratory, also known as the SMILE Lab. The company’s technology leverages the lab’s research that utilizes computer vision, Big Data, and augmented reality in order to create novel algorithms for data mining and predictive modeling.

Raymond Fu’s company, Giaran Inc., is a spinout of his lab at Northeastern—the Synergetic Media Learning Laboratory, also known as the SMILE Lab. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In the SMILE Lab, Fu and his team focus primarily on research with security and defense applications. Beauty, on the other hand, was hardly on his team’s radar initially. “In the early stages of this research, we didn’t know much about fashion, makeup, and beauty,” Fu explained. But this potential application took shape as they were researching how to digitally remove someone’s makeup to improve facial recognition. “It was then when we thought, ‘If we can remove someone’s makeup, maybe we can apply this to other domains.’”

To explore this idea further, Fu applied for and received a National Science Foundation I-Corps grant in spring 2016 to conduct market research with beauty industry professionals as well as consumers. Fu said they found a strong interest in the market for an efficient web tool that allows users to virtually try-on cosmetics and find products that best match their individual face shape, skin tone, and texture.

Enter Giaran, which Fu founded that same year. He credited Northeastern’s Center for Research Innovation as well as the deans, department chairs, and colleagues in the College of Engineering and College of Computer and Information Science for supporting his efforts to advance this research and launch the company.

“We are a technology company. We’re not experts on fashion and beauty,” Fu said. “Shiseido is a very prestigious company that will provide insight and vision in this domain. We need that insight to drive our research and development.”

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Giaran will remain based in Boston and become part of Shiseido’s Makeup Center of Excellence, working closely with teams in New York, Tokyo, and Palo Alto, California, to continue to develop the technology.