Project Music: A Place Where Music Startups Flourish
Nashville is known for its music—and recently, it’s become even more widely known for its friendliness toward startups.
There is a point, of course, where these two industries intersect. It’s no longer just music and startups—it’s music startups. That’s where Project Music comes into the picture. Founded in 2014, Project Music was inspired by the conjunction of music and startups and hopeful of creating a space where these businesses could find the resources to flourish.
“One of the missions of the program was getting Nashville, the Nashville music industry, and the Nashville entrepreneur community and everything it offers on the map and get it globally recognized as the place to go to start and launch your music tech-based company,” said Heather McBee, Project Music’s program director.
Prior to getting started with Project Music, McBee spent 25 years working in the music industry at Sony, making her way from an intern to VP of marketing. In 2014, she brought some of her new ideas to the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, which would end up being the home of Project Music.
“We wanted to see how investors in Nashville would respond,” McBee said, “and figure out if there was there a place in the program for this. Would the music industry support it? Were the entrepreneurs out there? Was there a demand for it?”
Project Music started out simply as an accelerator to create disruption in the music industry—in a positive sense, of course. It was originally intended just to be a 14-week program, but McBee had bigger plans.
“If you want to be recognized globally as the place to go, you’ve got to do it more than 14 weeks out of the year,” she told us.
So she put a proposal in front of the Entrepreneur Center basically laying out what a program like Project Music could do for the entire twelve months of the year. The EC agreed. The Project Music accelerator would act as the capstone, but there would be much more: pre-accelerator programs, a speaker series, mentorship, and more—all year round.
In offering all this, the goal is not only to help these music-centric companies, but also attract companies for the accelerator that have the greatest potential to change and build Nashville’s already booming music industry.
“We kept it broad on purpose, it’s really just about finding opportunities, finding companies that are out there that are not necessarily looking to take a piece out of somebody else’s revenue pie, but how do we find opportunities that make the music industry revenue pie bigger for everybody in a positive way of course.”
Some of the companies that have emerged with the help of Project Music’s accelerator program include karaoQ, an app that essentially improves the karaoke experience through a variety of ways, and Dart Music, a platform designed to get classical music heard (and recently raised over $1.5 million in investments).
“It’s all about putting the curriculum, the connections, and the capital around the teams and that’s kind of our underlying magic of the program.”
These Cs build the program’s foundation.
On the curriculum side, companies in the accelerator get the basics, that you would get if you went to an accelerator program: customer development, startup methodology, learning how to pitch, working with a financial model, how to talk to investors, etc. What takes it to the next level is that they then layer industry-specific education on top of all of that it, featuring speakers, panelists, and experts in the field who come in talk to the teams.
The connections, that really come down to the fact that, at the EC, there is a pool of 200+ mentors that are startup operators, business leaders, and tech experts. Because of Project Music’s connection, they augment that with experts from the music industry that then come in on a weekly basis to work with the teams. Last year they offered 25 mentors from the EC topped off with an additional 25 from the local music industry. Going into their second year, they expect that number to rise to around 35 or 40 mentors.
And capital: companies added to the accelerator in its first year were given $30k seed funding in exchange for seven percent equity. This year’s upcoming group is looking at $47k in exchange for seven percent.
In addition, the capital comes back to the connections. Through working with the mentors and experts on their pitches and things of that nature, the companies are then put them in front of potential investors. Last year the accelerator held a startup showcase for the entrepreneurs, featuring about 400 people for the music business—potential strategic partners, angel investors and a couple of venture capitalists that happened to sneak in.
Only about a year old, Project Music is rockin’ and rollin’. The program saw a 55 percent increase in applications for the upcoming accelerator from what it saw the year before. The fact that it’s taken off, of course, is not much of a surprise.
“Being here in Nashville, it’s such a community-driven industry and a community driven city, that it really seems to play into the personality of this program.”
We’re looking forward to the 2016 cohort kicking off in January. The companies chosen are Concert.Expert, Moodsnap, My Fans Demand, nicechart, note tracks, RecordGram, and UpNext.
Keep your eye out for those names. Big things are coming.