With the excitement of season three of the television show START UP on the horizon, it’s a good time to reflect on a quote from show creator Gary Bredow. “Ironically, START UP was my first truly successful startup.” In 2006, Gary’s situation was not unique; he was working at a giant media corporation which was in the process of laying off 85% of its work force - some of them his close friends. Uncertain of his own future and security, Gary had to think of a plan that would give him more control over his own choices and ambitions. Like many first-time entrepreneurs, he had no idea what was involved in starting a business. How do I lease space? How do I go about getting a business loan? How do I write a business plan? How do I create something out of nothing? Even with a college education in marketing and business, he felt that the best way to learn about starting a business was to talk to successful entrepreneurs and hear their stories directly. It was from this that Gary gained the confidence to push forward for his independence, and the idea for START UP was born.
Gary met producer Jenny Feterovich through the Detroit electronic music scene while he was working on his documentary film High Tech Soul. Jenny was an entrepreneur herself and a popular international DJ who toured around the world - her ambition and unbelievable work ethic impressed him while her global view on art, entertainment, and culture helped him see things on a larger scale. Jenny was someone he could rely on to “get the job done.” Already successful with her own business as a managing partner at Parliament Studios, a production company that was doing a lot of commercial corporate work, she also had some invaluable feature film production experience. Gary knew he had met someone whose passion to succeed matched his own, so he pitched the idea of the START UP television show to Jenny over lunch at Slow’s BBQ restaurant in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit.
Getting START UP off the ground was, no doubt, challenging. While shooting the pilot for the show, the team learned that they had an opportunity distribute the show nationally. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) model of television is a bit different from traditional network television like NBC, CBS, Fox, or the cable networks; with the PBS model, Jenny and Gary had to work countless hours to secure sponsors who would finance the show - something they had never done before. Maneuvering through the ins and outs of public television, they admittedly made mistakes but ultimately found the backing for season one. This was the huge accomplishment they needed to shoot the entire season and get it on the air.
A few years later and going into season three, the two have been able to remain grounded in their approach to producing quality television. “It’s passion over profit,” says Gary; “if you’re doing it only for money or freedom, you are more than likely to fail.” He also went on to explain that he sees a similar philosophy in the entrepreneurs featured on the show. It’s obvious when talking to Jenny and Gary that they do not measure their success purely on financial gains or ratings. The two of them look at the show as an opportunity to learn and grow their own business skills - as Jenny says, “I feel a lot more confident in things now. It’s like getting an Ivy League education practically for free,” referring to their experience and the businesses they have featured on the show.
The hard work is not done yet. The team continues to bring real stories to its viewers - as Gary states, “it’s real people telling real stories; there is nothing scripted about this show.” Season three of START UP highlights the struggles and victories of entrepreneurs in 17 cities across the United States. The show continues to reveal the experiences of individuals who have taken ideas and established successful businesses when the odds were against them, an experience with which Gary and Jenny are all too familiar. The series is distributed nationally to more than 350 PBS stations, Create TV Network, and World Channel Nationwide, and is shown in over 96% of the country. All of this started with a single conversation over some BBQ ribs.
Season three is new and improved. The show continues the “season two” format of featuring two businesses instead of the three-business episode format of the first season - this allows more in-depth and candid interviews to allow the viewer to truly understand the process of starting his or her own business. The visual presentation has been improved, featuring new graphical treatments and camera lenses. A “how to” has been added to the end of the show to provide more education and practical advice. The show also continues to feature prominent business leaders offering advice on strategy, including Slava Rubin, Founder and CEO of Indiegogo, Angie Hicks, creator of Angie’s List, and Alexa Von Tobel, CEO of LearnVest. Shark Tank’s Daymond John (CEO of FUBU) returns along with another familiar face making his first appearance - “Mr. Wonderful” himself, Kevin O’ Leary.
If you missed the first two seasons, you can watch them at the show’s website, www.startup-usa.com, to get caught up. Please visit the site to find out how this show has inspired millions to follow their dreams and take the plunge into business ownership. Keep your eye out in season three for my personal favorite: The Fowling Warehouse, a Detroit business that created their own sport - bowling with a football. Just like starting a business, it is not as easy as it sounds.
For more information about the television docu-series, please visit www.startup-usa.com.