Yuko AI: skincare company founded by UW grad students

Photo from Yuko AI

Yuko AI, a skincare company co-founded by graduate students at the University of Waterloo, seeks to make expert skincare advice accessible to everyone. The company connects people with dermatologists and medical institutions through its app, mySkinRoutine, simplifying and speeding up what is often a slow and difficult process to access skincare help. 

The CEO, Jean Vianney, completed his MASc in mechanical and mechatronics engineering at UW. He co-founded the company with Sajith Rajapaksa, an MSc student studying computer vision at the University of Toronto (U of T). The team also includes two graduate students from UW’s Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business, Alyssa Mariano and Bernice Ebata, as well as Dr. Apurva Aditi, a dermatologist. 

According to Vianney, the potential for AI solutions in healthcare is immense. He explained how YukoAI uses artificial intelligence “to augment human experts, [enabling them] to do their job a little bit faster and in a structured way.” 

“Our vision is not to replace human experts. We really believe, especially for health care, that humans will always be in the loop,” he said. “What the power of AI can do, [for example], is if there’s a process that takes 15 minutes, AI can help [healthcare workers] do it in five minutes. And that’s what Yuko AI is doing.” 

mySkinRoutine users are instructed to upload three photos of their bare face — one from the right, one from the centre and one from the left — and answer a few basic questions about their skin type, such as what products they use and how sensitive their skin is. This information is sent securely to Yuko AI’s partner experts, including dermatologists and medical institutions, who assess the user’s skin condition and provide recommendations for the individual’s needs. 

Within a couple days, users “can view a very detailed [review of their] skin conditions, very detailed diagnostics from an expert and then see recommended products. We also provide a link to just click and buy those products from the [product’s] site,” Vianney said. 

Yuko AI’s founders were inspired to use their AI expertise to solve a problem they had found within the healthcare system. “From our understanding and our research, especially in Toronto, if you want to see a dermatologist, it’s a process that involves you getting a referral from your family doctor and then waiting two months on the waiting list. When you finally get to see a dermatologist, they only see you for five minutes,” Vianney explained. 

“It’s an experience I’ve gone through,” he added. “That process isn’t really good from my view, so we want to improve it. Now, you only take two minutes to take selfies and answer a few questions. You wait a little bit, you receive your results and then you review them and buy those products. We do this to make the process of getting skincare help really easy.” 

According to Vianney, the app is still at a very early stage. “Currently, we have a minimum viable product. We released a beta on October 23 [2021],” he said. As of Jan. 9, the company has had 170 downloads, 75 of whom have submitted their information for review. 

“We do provide a way for people who are unhappy about the recommended products, or the service itself, to write back to us within the app. And also they can ask any follow-up questions to experts,” Vianney said. 

In the future, Yuko AI hopes to develop a system where users can rate the service they receive and other users can review those ratings to select who they want to receive service from. Vianney said the company would like to create “a community where people can share and talk about their experiences.” 

He expects this will help Yuko AI better serve its users. “I believe every company should be biased to some sense. And our bias is really to get the best data possible to train an AI model that eventually will cut the results waiting time down from 24 hours to, let’s say, 20 minutes, but at the same time, reduce the price for the service, as well. So it’s a win-win for all of us. And that is what motivates us — to expand the solution to the masses.”

Eventually, the company would like to further expand its services. For example, Vianney mentioned that the company is considering partnering with skincare spas and dermatologists to earn money through commissions and referrals. “At the end of the day, we know the limits of our technology is that we can’t give anybody prescriptions, we only recommend over-the-counter products. If experts examine somebody and say, okay, this person needs to see a dermatologist, we would recommend that the individual sees a dermatologist and could refer them to one,” he said, explaining how Yuko AI could monetize these partnerships. 

“We are also creating this database of knowledge, including ‘these are the skin conditions people are having,’ ‘these are the products that we recommended’ and ‘this is the feedback from them, you know how well the products work for them.’ [The database] can be useful for knowledge sharing in the future and we can try to possibly monetize that in some sense,” he added.