Troy Carter has a knack for identifying young talent. Consider the unknown performance artist Stefani Germanotta, who walked into his office one day in 2007 sporting fishnets and giant sunglasses and talking boldly about “changing the game.”
Her label, Def Jam Records, had just dumped her. Carter confided to Fast Company that he hadn’t heard of her. Lady Gaga now needs no introduction, thanks in part to Carter’s deft use of social media to promote her distinctive fusion of European dance and pop that radio station program directors initially refused to play.
Though Carter and Gaga have subsequently parted ways, the artist manager is hoping to turn his expertise in working with emerging talent to the tech world. His Los Angeles-based incubator, Smashd Labs, showcased its first group of five companies last week at a demo day.
“On the artist side, we made a significant investment in very young artists from the very beginning of their careers and helped them become global superstars,” Carter told Re/code. “So, on the entrepreneurs’ side, the idea of the labs was to be able to create this ecosystem to help them from the very beginning, to see them through from development and hopefully until they become large companies.”
Carter is no novice when it comes to tech investing. His firm, Atom Factory, built a portfolio of 80 companies that includes stakes in Uber, Spotify, Lyft, Warby Parker and Dropbox.
Like Madonna’s manager, Guy Oseary, Carter has been instrumental in forging connections between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. They joined Justin Bieber’s manager, Scooter Braun, on the All Things D stage in 2013 to talk about bridging the entertainment-technology divide.
Smashd Labs allowed Carter to be involved at the earliest stages of a company, hand-picking a diverse mix of companies and founders who all were pursing multi-billion-dollar marketplaces.
Two of the startups, Sidestep and Trakfire, seek to modernize facets of the music business — offering new approaches for merchandise sales and song recommendations. Enrou creates a socially conscious marketplace that connects shoppers with artisans from around the world. Throne marries original content with a marketplace for streetwear and sneakers. Another venture, WeTransfer, takes the heavy lifting out of file-sharing.
The incubator may lack the track record of a Y Combinator, but it has the benefit of Carter’s Rolodex.
Billionaire and “Shark Tank” star Mark Cuban offered the welcoming address to the startups and talked about the responsibilities of entrepreneurship. Over the course of 10 weeks, speakers included founder Sophia Amoruso of retail site Nasty Gal, serial entrepreneur Jason Calacanis, Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, Upfront Ventures’ Mark Suster and MediaREDEF Chief Executive Jason Hirschhorn (a veteran of MySpace, Sling Media and MTV Networks).
“We had a wide array of incredible entrepreneurs and investors that came in to speak to the group,” said Carter. “The head of growth for Snapchat, he probably spent five days with our companies. That’s significant.”
Now, it’s up to the budding startups to see if they can connect with a wider group of investors and consumers.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.