This is the latest in my series of posts spotlighting underrepresented communities around the world and the entrepreneurs trying to help them. In this installment, I talk to former PespiCo marketing exec Bonin Bough, who is hosting a new CNBC reality TV series featuring basketball star Lebron James. They hope to boost small businesses in Cleveland.
With companies sending their factories overseas and older people relocating to more sunny regions, many cities in the northern US are experiencing slow post-recession recovery. Cleveland especially has been hit hard. Listed as second highest on the Distressed Community Index and number four in America's top 10 dying cities, Cleveland is suffering through undeniable economic difficulties.
Basketball star Lebron James, along with former marketing executive Bonin Bough, want to change that. Bough is hosting a new CNBC reality TV show about entrepreneurs that he and James have been planning for months. James is executive producer on the project. In the show, investors pick local companies to fund. It's called "Cleveland Hustles" and it debuted August 24th.
"Lebron reached out to me, and the whole idea was, 'How do we build a model that can revitalize neighborhoods across America by investing in entrepreneurs?,'" Bough says.
Go Global, Stay Local
Cleveland was once a major manufacturing center for the rubber and automotive industry, but now most jobs are primarily service industry oriented. The reduction in jobs due to corporate downsizing and shrinking economy has resulted in poverty levels approaching the top of the list for concentrated poverty in big U.S. cities.
Many have hope that Cleveland can recover by taking advantage of a growing grass roots movement to patronize small, local businesses, which are seeking to develop a larger, global presence. "Cleveland Hustles" is spotlighting such businesses.
"The idea is that we invest in entrepreneurs that are willing to build businesses in up-and-coming, kind of downtrodden neighborhoods that can bring back jobs and economic revitalization. Neighborhood revitalization," Bough says.
Here's how the show works. A panel of venture capitalists analyze local businesses and pick a select few to invest in, with the goal of igniting growth, while also helping the Cleveland neighborhoods they are in. Just as in shows like "Shark Tank" or "The Profit," many of the entrepreneurs badly need the expertise.
"A lot of these guys don't come from PepsiCo. They don't understand how to think about scale or breadth. I've worked with startups and I've invested in real estate and worked with some small businesses, but... over the last nine months I just realized the kinds of tools that should be made available [for new entrepreneurs], the kind of thinking that should be made available, and most importantly, the network opportunity. We're providing real access and opportunities for these guys that they might not otherwise get."
Getting Beyond Just 'Staying Afloat'
The dream of a small business scaling and going global isn't new. But knowing when to scale, how to scale, and who to scale with can make all the difference in the long term success of a fledgling company. As the host of the show, Bough's focus has been on helping founders think about what they've built and how it can be brought to more people. He says many founders can't see beyond the immediate goals of running a small business, because the daily requirements of keeping it afloat can be so daunting.
"What's interesting is that they don't realize what their potential could be and they don't realize what the road looks like," Bough says. "We're revitalizing the Gordon Square area of Cleveland, but at the same time, we're trying to create some of the biggest businesses on the planet if possible, at least give them a shot. How do we take these businesses and help them scale?"
The pivotal question for entrepreneurs looking to get on the show was whether they were willing to re-invest in the local economy.
"One, that you were willing to open a storefront in a distressed neighborhood; and two, that what you cared most about was bringing jobs back to this area, so no matter how big you got, you were going to be dedicated to actual employment and economic development in that neighborhood," Bough says.
Bough hopes to see the show act as a catalyst for other cities and celebrities, but for now he's concentrating on getting his entrepreneurs to think bigger and more globally while keeping their small business local.
"We can make these guys a national brand, a global brand," Bough says. "The kind of revitalization they can bring to the neighborhood is huge."