When technology and entertainment meet, good things are bound to happen.
Late last month the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) revealed Creative Labs, a startup studio based in Vancouver focused on developing consumer-facing technology companies and entertainment experiences. The lab launched on $12.5 million worth of financing from investors including Boatrocker Ventures, Entertainment One and Real Ventures.
The goal of Creative Labs is to borrow the talent and expertise from the CAA—an agency that reps stars like Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and David Beckham—and develop companies that either integrate that talent source or step into new territories with exciting ideas in the realms of gaming, messaging, e-commerce and more.
There’s a question here though: why Vancouver and not Hollywood, the epicentre of celebrity and fame? The answer delves deep into why the city is one of the rising tech hubs in North America.
“We’d be crazy not to do it in Vancouver,” says Mike Edwards, CEO of Creative Labs. “Our portfolio of companies are being driven by product managers coming out of the gaming world. They are incredibly talented and have run high-growth teams that are already creating dividends for us.”
Having access to that right kind of talent seems to be key. Leonard Brody, co-founder and chairman of Creative Labs, points to the strength of product managers in Vancouver, a trait that most likely stems from the healthy video game production scene in the city. Often a product manager may act as an entrepreneur in residence then grow into more meaningful roles in a Creative Labs company, sometimes becoming the head of that venture.
Throw in strong developer talent, great tax incentives and a fit in terms of cities–Vancouver is a coastal city with the same timezone and culture of L.A.—and Creative Labs opening up on Canada’s West Coast becomes a more obvious move.
Brody and Edwards are quick to point out Creative Labs is not an incubator, accelerator or a fund. The lab takes organic ideas and assets, then hires talent and finds partners to create a company from the ground up. The companies that come out of the ecosystem are entirely independent and meant to return exits to shareholders.
Finding ideas to capitalize on was not a struggle for Edwards and the team. When a company has access to the resources CAA can provide, the difficulty does not lie in formulating inspiration, but rather in executing the abundance of great ideas.
“We follow the audience,” explains Edwards. “The key reason CAA is so valuable to Creative Labs is intelligence—we sit at this intersection between entertainment and tech. We can leverage their roster of talent to test, identify and engage with an audience.”
Brody goes on to explain just how powerful the collusion between strong entertainment talent and technology can be—and the challenge of scaling the fan following and stardom of a celebrity into tangible growth within a new company or product.
“Our job is to think about strengths. Because of the access to the client base of CAA, we have a lot of distribution power,” says Brody. “We’re in a market now where celebrities can speak to consumers directly, from a media, product and fan relationship perspective. We can layer that voice over new platforms.”
The way Creative Labs decides what kinds of companies to create and foster involves a delicate balance of CAA’s resources along with audience needs. Their three current startups all represent a unique approach to how a company can be created in the space, with a fourth one coming soon.
Ground Control is an interactive audio platform rooted in the explosive growth of virtual assistants like Alexa. This idea came from CAA looking at new ways to leverage their talent, eventually leading to celebrities lending their voices to different kinds of programming. So far, former VP of the U.S. Joe Biden shares what news he is reading while all-star baseball catcher Buster Posey conducts baseball trivia.
Belletrist is a product-driven media company focusing on the link between millennial women and arts and culture—a kind of curated book club. This idea did not come from CAA, but rather talent they rep—actress Emma Roberts and her partner Karah Preiss were inspired to create and head the startup.
Finally, a gaming company was created through the process of developers at Creative Labs finding new ways to reach out to CAA and see what kinds of resources they can latch onto.
With a huge agency like CAA and a new influx of funding, it was daunting for everyone involved with Creative Labs to get off the ground and make profitable and interesting companies, Brody admits.
“Walking in on day one to Creative Labs was like stepping in front of a fire hose,” he says. “You have all this pent-up desire with a big idea and talent base. It was so difficult to find out where to start.”
Edwards, Brody and the team have certainly found a place to start, as the three companies to come out of Creative Labs have already produced at least 12 unique products. With a fourth company set to launch soon, Vancouver will remain a hotspot for the intersection of celebrity and talent.