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Swimming WIth Narwhals
2024 Music Tech Startup Competition

Spotlighting creative startups through this competition is one of the ways the Music Tectonics conference focuses on music innovation—wherever it’s shaking up the industry. Applications are open from July 10 to August 12, 2024.

Get insider tips: watch video for our latest online event

Read about the competition in Hypebot and Music Ally


Applicant companies must:

  • be less than 5 years old.

  • have a working demo of a product/service/platform or a finished product.

  • work in any part of the music innovation ecosystem: creating, distributing, listening to, or monetizing music; managing rights or data, engaging fans, running live music events, and more.



July 10, 2024     Applications open

July 17               Narwhal Kickoff Event - Watch the video here
August 12          Applications close at 11:59pm Pacific Time
August 20         Last day to purchase badges at Early Bird rate of $249.

August 27         Ten semi-finalists announced, selected by a panel of music tech entrepreneurs, investors and experts
September 11   Semi-finalists pitch at the Music Tectonics Online Preconference
September 16   Finalists announced
October 22        Startup Carousel demos at the Music Tectonics Conference in Santa Monica, CA.
October 23        Finalists pitch in-person at the conference.
October 24        Jury choice and Audience Choice winners announced at the conference. 

Narwhal judges, winners and finalists



What do the winning startups receive?

  • Feature in a press release about the competition

  • Founder interviews on the Music Tectonics Podcast after the event

  • Free badge for the 2025 conference

Winning the 2024 competition does not come with a monetary prize or investment, but winners benefit from recognition and the warm embrace of the Music Tectonics community.  The winner of the first “Swimming with Narwhals” competition in 2020, Jacquelle Amankonah Horton, sees the experience as a springboard for her startup Fave, a platform for fans to unite and support their favorite artists with passion and creativity. “Winning the Music Tectonics startup competition completely catapulted my company,” Horton recalls. “It was the first time I spoke publicly about my vision outside of moonlighting on the project, and the direct support I received from the judges, industry leads who saw or heard of me from this stage, and the amazing fellow attendee community is what led to me closing a $2.2M seed round from top industry companies just a few months later. So grateful and feel indebted to the MT family for this kickoff.”


Is there an application fee?

Yes: one member of your company must buy a badge to the conference. Early Bird badges are $249. Get yours before the price rises to $350 on  August 20!

Narwhal Finalists and Semifinalists demo at the Startup Carousel on Santa Monica Pier

Why should I attend the conference if I am not selected as a finalist?

So many reasons!


  • Being seen: Even if you're not selected as a semi-finalist, a panel of investors and experts will pay attention to your application. At the conference, you'll have the chance to meet investors who are speaking at or attending the conference and looking for great new ideas like yours, and you'll participate in UMG Digital Innovations' Startup Bootcamp.

  • Networking: We’re designing an online preconference event for all badgeholders that includes the semi-final round of the pitch competition. Network with your cohort and get advice from our panel of  judges at a Q&A. MT online events are fun, fast-paced, and dynamic- a far cry from the usual webinar. 

  • Time to shine: The first day of the conference features a Startup Carousel - a ring of startup demo tables at Santa Monica’s historic Merry-go-round. All Semi-finalists have top priority to join the finalists and present their demos, followed by applicants in order of application.


  • Getting business done: Conference attendees tell us every year that they meet new partners, clients, and investors at Music Tectonics. Music Tectonics makes space for meeting and building relationships outside panels and keynotes with breaks on the schedule and a third conference day for your meetings.


  • Planning for the future: Innovation in the Music Tech space thrives on conversation and connection across industry boundaries. Get ideas and actionable insights for your startup by taking part in deep conversations about the future of music and tech.​​

Music innovation startups pitch and learn at UMG Digital Innovations' Startup Bootcamp

I have a great startup, but I can’t afford the cost of a conference badge. What should I do?

Apply for a badge scholarship! Music Tectonics is offering three badge scholarships to startup pitch competition applicants. Email Shayli (or use our contact form) by August 8 to apply, explaining briefly what this support means to your company. 


Preference for badge scholarships will be given to founders belonging to groups historically excluded from tech and music industry leadership.

Who judges the competition?

All applications will be reviewed by an independent panel of music tech entrepreneurs, investors, and experts. The Music Tectonics and Rock Paper Scissors teams do not select semi-finalists. Jury for the final pitch session will be announced soon.

2024 semi-final jury:

  • Sun Jen Yung, (Nfluence Partners)

  • Deek Velagandula (Waverley Capital)

  • Kristin Grant (Investor)


Past judges include:

  • Kareem Akhtar (Amazon Investor Fund)

  • David Dufresne (Investor)

  • David Gabeau (Union Street Ventures)

  • Meng Ru Kuok, (BandLab)

  • Brian Mac Mahon, (Expert DOJO)

  • Fred McIntyre (Capacitance)​

  • Bob Moczydlowsky (Techstars Music)

  • Aadit Parikh, Sony Ventures

  • Isabelle Persson (Expert Dojo)

  • Arabian Prince (Investor & NWA founding member)

  • Juliette Rolnick, BDMI

  • Joe Tou, Sony Ventures

  • Deek Velagandula, Waverley Capital

  • Tom Windish (Wasserman Music)

Why Narwhals?

Sometimes called the “unicorn whale,” the narwhal mascot represents the spirit and goals of the competition. We invoke the real one-horned animal to poke fun at the cultural obsession with billion-dollar unicorn startups, since we keep the focus on innovators with real-world solutions. And while shark tanks pit founders against each other and antagonistic judges, the Music Tectonics competition is designed to be welcoming and mutually supportive.

What's the story behind this competition?

See the 2023 competition page to find out who competed and who won!

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