Thousands of minority- and women-owned entrepreneurs will have the chance to audition to appear on ABC’s Shark Tank, providing them an opportunity to gain much needed capital for growing their businesses. Casting directors will hold an open call on Friday, August 23, in Washington, DC during the Kingonomics Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Investment Conference. The event’s organizer, Rodney Sampson, recently signed on with Shark Tank Executive Producer Mark Burnett as head of diversity and inclusion at One Three Media, a joint media and production venture between Burnett and the Hearst Corporation.
Kinganomics is the title of Sampson’s book, which is an interpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s economic vision for jobs and financial freedom for all Americans; through his lens as a serial entrepreneur and accredited investor primarily in technology and new media. The Kinganomics Conference, done in collaboration with the SCLC Poverty Institute, will bring together experts in capital raising strategies including crowdfunding, angel investment, and venture capital. The daylong forum and Shark Tank casting call also coincides with activities on Capitol Hill surrounding the 50th Anniversary celebration of the historic March On Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Now in its fifth season, Shark Tank is a competition reality-based television series that features a panel of self-made multimillionaire and billionaire entrepreneurs/judges who consider offers from aspiring entrepreneurs seeking investment capital for their businesses or products. The Emmy Award-nominated series features investor billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks; business mogul and brand expert Daymond John, founder of FUBU clothing line; inventor and “Queen of QVC” Lori Griener; real estate mogul Barbara Corcocran; technology innovator Robert Herjavec; and, venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary.
Sampson was tapped personally by Burnett (Survivor, Celebrity Apprentice, The Voice) to spearhead his television production company’s diversity efforts. The two had worked together on the hit television miniseries The Bible; the 10-hour drama that ran on the History Channel in March 2013. Burnett and his wife Roma Downey scripted and produced the show. Sampson served on the show’s advisory board in a diversity and inclusion role to insure conversations around people of color were authentic.
Burnett sought Sampson’s assistance when he learned the ratings for the Shark Tank revealed a larger African American and female audience on Friday night at 8 pm ET.
“The challenge he said is that most of the companies that pitch are white males,” recalls Sampson. “He decided that he wanted diversity and inclusion to be intentional not just on Shark Tank or one show but all of his properties. That is what led to me becoming the first head of diversity and inclusion inside of the organization.”
Sampson is charged with identifying and attracting a more diverse pool of inventors and entrepreneurs.
“Our goal is for at least 20% of the companies that pitch on the show to be minorities.”
The Shark Tank open casting call is a great forum he says especially given that access to capital remains the most important factor limiting the launch, expansion or growth of minority-owned businesses. Moreover, less than 3% of venture capital is invested in women owned and operated enterprises; less than 1% goes to African American run businesses.
Kingonomics registrants will receive priority pitch opportunities at the open call, which includes coaching. The way it works is that participants will get one minute to pitch.
“So, you have to fine-tune your elevator pitch to the point where the casting directors feel like in one minute your company is one that they will want to take a closer look at,” explains Sampson.
Entrepreneurs simply get the opportunity to pitch. There is no guarantee of funding.
“Your company has to stand on its own on a valuation perspective.” He adds, “if someone says ‘I am raising $200,000 for 10% of my company’ what you are telling shark-type investors is that your company has a valuation of $2 million. If you sold it today you would get $2 million for it.”
Investors aren’t your friends; they are looking for a return on investment, Sampson cautions as someone who is an accredited investor (individual with a network more than $1 million or annual income over $200,000). “Investors look at valuation. We look at teams. We look at marketability. We look at track record. We look at differentiation. We look at innovation. We look at your branding. You have to understand that investors are looking for good deals for themselves.”
For those companies that casting directors are interested in, there is still a long vetting process involving a background check and intellectual property or patent checks, notes Sampson.
If you don’t make it on this season you may make it on another season. The number of competitors has steadily grown. During the Shark Tank’s premiere season in 2009, roughly 42 entrepreneurs tried to convince the Sharks to invest in them. By last year’s season 4, that number of entrepreneurs to swim with the Sharks had more than doubled, at 104.
What if you can’t make DC’s casting call on the 23rd, no worries Sampson says, since the producers are actively looking for companies to pitch on the show. Find out more by visiting the link DC.Kinganomics.com.