I Want My Small-Biz TV!

Entrepreneurs have plenty of viewing choices when they kick back after a hard day of making the wheels of commerce spin. Here's a viewer's guide

By Karen E. Klein

It's safe to say that entrepreneurially inclined Americans have never had more help and encouragement in pursuing their dreams: Web sites, newsletters, chat rooms, and blogs supply a constant feed of information. Government and private agencies offer counsel, workshops, and networking. Scores of advice books targeted at entrepreneurs are published each year.

Add to this list a handful of long-running television programs -- and some newcomers -- that aim to demonstrate the struggles of real-life entrepreneurs and inspire business owners just starting out or thinking about it. While the reality-TV format (think The Restaurant and The Apprentice) has recently bumped up the visibility of entrepreneurial TV, several shows have been broadcasting the stories of American entrepreneurs weekly on cable and public television stations for years and, in some cases, decades.

Here's a round-up of a few small-business TV offerings:

Small Business School has been seen on PBS stations across the country for the past 11 years. Produced in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the show strives to establish a TV- and Internet-based business community where best practices are discussed by small business owners who are selected to become "master class" teachers. Every show focuses on the experiences of a highly successful entrepreneur and on the business concepts and principles that have worked for him or her.

The half-hour program started in 1994 as "Small Business Today" and introduced its current name and format in 2001. Broadcast by over 200 public television stations, it also has a global reach: Through the U. S. Information Agency's WorldNet Global Satellite, it is broadcast into more than 300 cities around the world, translated into local languages.

Making It! is a weekly, half-hour magazine format show with a mission: Promote economic empowerment for minority business owners. The show, which premiered in March, 1989, in Los Angeles, highlights the triumphs, challenges, and contributions of minority businesses. Along with on-location reports, the format includes how-to advice and general tips, interviews with business experts, and discussions of the resources available to small-business owners.

Making It! has received a slather of awards and honors, including multiple Emmys for Best Informational/Public Affairs series. Via satellite, cable, and DirecTV, it is shown in cities throughout the U.S. To find out where and when to catch the show, check out the Web site.

Black Enterprise Report (formerly Minority Business Report) is a half-hour show produced weekly in Chicago by Central City Productions. It provides a forum for small-business issues, policies, and ideas that impact the development of minority- and female-owned businesses. Broadcast for close to two decades, it features reports from the field of minority-owned businesses in action, as well as investment issues, e-commerce reports, and a broad range of studio guests discussing the latest business trends.

Local cable offerings also provide glimpses of entrepreneurship through television programs like, Inside Small Business, produced by the Arkansas Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Little Rock, which gives startup and established businesses information and tips on successful business ownership.

Reality shows like The Restaurant on NBC and Blow Out on Bravo have come and gone. Both faced the criticism that they were more suds than substance, and many viewers noted that prominent product placements seemed to trump genuine business lessons. However, each offered a window of sorts on the trials and travails of opening a retail operation, albeit from a limited perspective. Their successes have spawned plans for a couple new reality business shows, including Taking Care of Business (see BW Online, 10/13/04, "Playing Survivor, Small-Business Style").

The other entrant , The Entrepreneur is planned for sometime next year, but a network deal for the show has yet to be announced. The concept, dreamed up by Halo Studios, a production outfit based in Ventura, Calif., asks aspiring entrepreneurs from around the country to submit their business plans or executive summaries for a chance to win startup capital and, possibly, a distribution deal with a major retailer.

The Entrepreneur hopes to air 10 episodes in its first season and will showcase young entrepreneurs as they are put through "real life" challenges by a panel of celebrity judges. The show will feature three regular panelists and weekly guests, including venture capitalists, business tycoons, and prominent entrepreneur.

Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.

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