Entrepreneurs are getting beat up by the media, says Gary Whitehill, and he's just not gonna take it anymore.
So Whitehill, who founded the Entrepreneur Week conference series in 2009 as a platform for early-stage entrepreneurs to mingle and share ideas, decided to do something different this year: a charity walk to protest what he says is the unfair portrayal of entrepreneurs as members of the gluttonous, greedy "one percent."
"I think it's disingenuous the way the media have portrayed anyone who has made a quarter million in revenue and above," Whitehill says. "There's a very big difference between Fortune 100 CEOs and Wall Street and folks who actually create jobs and anchor economies."
An invitation to the event concluded: "Stand up against being looped into the 1% by the media—show the world who we are and what we believe."
The walk originated in the parking lot of Chelsea Piers, Manhattan's hulking west side sports complex where any day one can find investment bankers playing intramural soccer. Posters were hung that read: "We're not the 1%. We're not the 99%. We're the difference."
When I first speak with Whitehill, a few hours before the walk is set to take place at 5 p.m., he's in a cab, sitting next to some 800 American flags, on his way to Occupy Wall Street in Union Square, hoping to recruit the occupiers to join Whitehill in the 1.5 mile walk north along the Hudson. When I suggest that there's maybe some irony to Whitehill inviting an organization whose slogan is "We are the 99 percent" to a walk whose slogan is "We are not the 99 percent," Whitehill laughs it off.
"I'm crazy enough to do that," he says.
Although Whitehill's press announcement claimed over 650 entrepreneurs would be walking, I counted about 45 by the time the event began. The walk, which benefitted three New York start-up-based non-profits, raised more than $14,000, mostly from corporate sponsors.
"We're not about exploiting anybody. Entrepreneurs are about doing good. It's about patriotism, right?"
RealBeanz, a Brooklyn-based iced coffee brewer, handed out iced coffee, while Whitehill handed out branded wrist-watches with "Stop at Nothing. Achieve Everything" emblazoned in lime green on their faces. American Airlines and Deloitte, the multinational global financial consulting firm, were also among the evening's benefactors.
"The media just lumps everyone all together and says 'If you make more than this amount, you're a bad person,'" Whitehill says. "I just don't think that’s the case…We're not about exploiting anybody. Entrepreneurs are about doing good. It's about patriotism, right?"
Amilya Antonetti, a serial entrepreneur and the "Small Business Voice for Fox News," was present to deliver the evening's opening remarks.
"You can't confuse me with a CEO of a major corporation," she told me in an interview. "He gets a paycheck regardless of what happens. I take food off my table every time I invest in my employees."
Antonetti, who owns four homes across the United States, traveled on private jets 41 weeks out of last year, and is in the midst of applying for Italian citizenship, added, "We can create jobs faster than corporate America. But [the media] are like, 'You're those people.' Are you out of your mind? We're leveraged to the hills. We're the worker bees."
Haithem Elembaby, a friend of Whitehill's and an aspiring tech entrepreneur, agreed with the evening's message. "They're making money, but not doing it greedily," he said of entrepreneurs.
But others were a bit perplexed. Another attendee, who asked to remain anonymous because of his friendship with Whitehill, admitted it was a bit strange to be borrowing the language of Occupy Wall Street. "I think it feels, like, he could have planned it a bit more," he told me, before quietly wandering away a few minutes before the walkers began their walk up the West Side Highway.