JammAround makes semifinals in Pharrell’s $1M Black Ambition entrepreneur contest | Business News
JammAround, a New Orleans-based music software firm, has made it to the semi-final round of the Black Ambition national entrepreneur contest fronted by music impresario Pharrell Williams.
The company, which was founded in 2020 by Brent Craige, Marlon Butler and Donovan Williams, already won the $400,000 top prize earlier this year at the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week event in March with their web application, which is at making it easier for musicians to collaborate.
The company is being touted as part of a potential next wave of New Orleans tech start-up successes, following last year’s sale of a clutch of New Orleans companies founded about a decade ago.
The Black Ambition contest is designed to fast-track selected companies by connecting them with top mentors in their industry and opening up opportunities to network with potential investors and partners they might not otherwise have access to.
Craige, JammAround’s CEO, said that making the cut from several thousand applicants in March to one of the 249 semi-finalists announced last week means they gain admission to a range of programs over the next several months, whether or not they eventually win one of the financial prizes.
“Our music app aligns perfectly with Pharrell’s business interests, so we applied right after NOEW knowing that being part of the process alone would be a win,” said Craige.
Two prize pots
Now in its second year, Black Ambition has two main tracks and prize pots for start-up companies that have at least one Black or Hispanic founder: one focuses on companies with founders at Historically Black Colleges and Universities and has a total prize pot of $250,000 . The other track picks fast-growing companies from a general pool and has total prizes of $1 million.
JammAround was picked from the general pool and is one of 38 companies competing in the media and entertainment sub-category.
In March, JammAround was the big winner at NOEW, where the prize money had been boosted from $50,000 in previous years to a total of $750,000, with contributions led by Patrick Comer and Scott Wolfe, who had been graduates a decade ago of the entrepreneur accelerator program run by NOEW’s organizer, Idea Village.
Comer and Wolfe sold their companies last autumn for $1.1 billion and $500 million, respectively, in what was widely heralded as a watershed moment for New Orleans’ startup scene. The sale of those two companies and a slew of others in the previous year was seen by boosters of the local tech scene as vindication for efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to build a start-up support system.
Honing a business model
Wolfe became one of JammAround’s mentors after their NOEW win. He and several of his senior colleagues at Levelset also invested in JammAround some of the proceeds they realized with the sale of the construction software firm last year.
Wolfe said the young company exemplifies the ambition that regional economic boosters have set to leverage the city’s deep musical heritage to create a fully-fledged “music economy” to rival cities like Nashville.
“As I see it, tech has changed the music industry so much in the past 20 years but really left musicians themselves behind,” Wolfe said. “JammAround connects musicians, enhances their creative process, and can eventually empower them to flip the ownership and distribution pyramid back toward them.”
For his part, Craige said that having Wolfe and other mentors over the past few months has helped them focus on a clear business strategy to turn a good concept into a profitable business.
JammAround now is offering free memberships to build its user base. Musicians, producers, songwriters and other can swipe through looking for collaborators. But after 50 swipes they must upgrade to an entry-level $10 a month subscription.
Front edge of the chain
“This is the very front edge of the music supply chain,” Craige explained. “It takes two people minimum to make a song in most genres. This helps you streamline the entire composition process before you get to the studio.” The next level is to help artists monetize their master recordings, JammAround earning a percentage.
As with so many businesses, the original concept grew out of the difficulties Craige and Butler had in making their own record, and the efforts of Williams to develop a software solution for those problems.
Now, Wolfe is betting that the company can be a foundation for the New Orleans music economy.
“With NOLA’s music heritage and music culture, this innovation clearly belongs here,” he said.