Baby-faced singer Greyson Chance, 15, recently made his first startup investment, in a New York educational video game-maker. He's also living proof of the Internet's ability to disrupt the entertainment industry's power structure.
Two years ago, the Oklahoman's performance of Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" at a school talent show went viral on YouTube. With 49 million hits, the performance landed him a recording contract with Gaga's manager, Troy Carter.
Greyson, who just wrapped a concert tour of Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, said new broadcasting platforms like Twitter and Spreecast are key to building and keeping a fan base. And with guidance from Carter - who last fall joined with Menlo Ventures on the Talent Fund, a $20 million portfolio of media startups - "I definitely want to do more investments," he said.
David Lee, managing director of influential seed fund SVAngel, said the changing nature of tech has taken it out of the sole purview of coders and chief technology officers.
"Technology is more accessible to people now: You can understand Airbnb, and that's much different from having an opinion on Cisco or Genentech," said Lee, whose fund counts Hammer among its investors.
"There's a natural, mutual benefit for both technologists and certain folks in the entertainment industry," Lee added. "And, I would say, other industries as well."
SVAngel's founder, Ron Conway, turned stars like Tiger Woods, Shaquille O'Neal and Matt Damon into Silicon Valley investors during the dot-com era. Conway was among the first to discover Napster and, a decade later, Facebook.
But while Hollywood may have soured briefly on Silicon Valley after the dot-com bust, the celebrity trend began a revival in 2004, when Menlo Park, Calif., investment firm Elevation Partners added U2 vocalist Bono to its partner roster.
Another pioneering matchmaker between Silicon Valley and Hollywood is Los Angeles consultant and investor Robin Bechtel. She's credited with putting together one of the first band websites (for rockers Megadeth), selling the first digital single (for Duran Duran) and persuading Warner Music Group to cut a trailblazing deal with YouTube at a time record labels were looking to sue the video-sharing upstart.
These days, she makes regular pilgrimages to Silicon Valley, introducing Hollywood movers and shakers such as Spears' manager, Adam Leber, to entrepreneurs like Morin for potential partnerships.
"I explain that just because you're rich and famous in Hollywood doesn't mean diddly squat in Silicon Valley," said Bechtel, whose agency is dubbed Silicon.Wood.
But with the business success of stars like Jessica Alba - who recently co-founded The Honest Company, an online retailer of natural baby products - Bechtel expects to see more entertainers put their names and fortunes behind tech startups.
"I think," she said, "you will see next year as 'the' year of the celebrity entrepreneur."
Tech's Celebrity Angels
Among the "celebrity angels" who've helped found or fund tech startups in recent years are:
-Leonardo DiCaprio, actor: Led a $4 million seed investment last year in New York mobile-social startup Mobli.
-Dr. Dre, music producer: In 2006, founded consumer electronics-maker Beats in Santa Monica, Calif.; last year, mobile phone giant HTC bought a majority share for $300 million.
-Will Ferrell, comedian: Together with serial entrepreneur Randy Adams - who helped get Yahoo off the ground - Ferrell in 2007 co-founded humor website Funny or Die, which has landed funding from top-shelf venture investor Sequoia Capital.
-Kim Kardashian, TV bombshell: Co-founded Santa Monica e-tailer ShoeDazzle in 2009; its Bay Area backers include Lightspeed Venture Partners and Andreessen Horowitz.
-Bruno Mars, singer: This month, joined Silicon Valley's Kapor Capital and 500 Startups to put $2 million into Santa Monica digital music startup Chromatik.
-Edward Norton, actor: Investor and partner in Crowdrise, a New York site that helps raise money for charity.
Source: San Jose Mercury News staff reporting
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