There is no shortage of accelerators these days promising to help startups grow and succeed. This may be good news for the budding entrepreneurs who manage to get in, but it can be difficult for accelerators themselves to stand out.
When I talk to folks about the large number of accelerators in Silicon Valley as well as in all the other major startup hubs, one question gets asked more than others; "How does this one stand out?" Generally, a successful accelerator carves itself a niche that helps it attract a certain type of business.
One of the most recent accelerators I've checked out is SMASHD/labs, a Los Angeles-based operation founded by renowned music manager Troy Carter. He helps this accelerator standout, partly due to his celebrity. Carter has worked with some of the best musical acts in the business, including Lady Gaga, John Legend, and Meghan Trainor.
However, he also helps this accelerator stand out because of the type of companies he's investing in, which stems from his core expertise. SMASHD/labs welcomes tech entrepreneurs in the fields of entertainment, media and culture. It recently pitched five promising startups to investors at its first ever demo day. I talked with him about what makes SMASHD/labs so different.
Carter has worked with dozens of recording artists going back to the 1990s, but his most widely known success began when he saw promise in an artist who had just been dropped from her label. Along with record producer Vincent Herbert, Carter traveled around California with a then-unknown artist named Lady Gaga. The three had little support as they worked in what Troy calls "hand-to-hand combat" to get club promoters to notice the phenomenally talented artist. Within two years, she was one of the most successful music artists of the decade.
Carter says, from the start, his goal with SMASHD/labs has been to serve as a champion for artists. He says he wants to empower both artists and entrepreneurs. This isn't a stretch for Troy, who is already an expert at accelerating careers, first as a manager and later through his company Atom Factory.
"On the artist side, we've been accelerating careers for years," he says. "Artists come to us pretty much with an idea or a demo and our job is to take that demo and scale that artist's business around the world."
With SMASHD/labs, Troy hopes to create an experience that goes beyond support. Carter says he knew from the start that he and his team could offer more than seed and Series A funding to companies. Instead, they set a goal to have a unique type of experience with each of the companies they welcomed into the program.
"We felt like there was more to offer on the front end if we had this hands-on experience with the companies and we were able to put them in our space and offer them our experience and our network," Troy says. "That birthed the idea of SMASHD/labs."
It's All in the Network
Admittedly, it's probably Carter's network that truly sets this accelerator apart. When he first started investing, he found that the network he'd created over the years was essential to helping entrepreneurs.
Within the music industry, having relationships with the right music producers, songwriters, radio stations, record labels, and television bookers can be essential to success. Over time, an ecosystem develops that allows producers to accelerate an artist's career at a much quicker pace than it would without those existing relationships.
"What I found, once we started investing a few years ago, was that this sort of network was still valuable for young founders," Carter says. "We could help accelerate their business development through a relationship or their customer acquisition. We could also help with product, marketing, communications, all of these things that a lot of accelerator programs have."
While SMASHD/labs is just one of dozens of accelerators looking to build a strong portfolio of companies, many of them are focused primarily around product. While that's a sensible strategy, Carter says his goal is to have a program that complements product support with help that entertainment-related startups specifically need. This includes brand strategy, marketing, communications, narrative, and user experience.