Shark Tank, the staple of Friday night television, features a steady stream of American entrepreneurs looking for a boost to their businesses. They end up on the show via many routes. There is an application process, open casting calls, and direct recruitment by show producers. Many Shark Tank pitchers get a call after their products have enjoyed a successful run on Kickstarter or a similar crowdfunding site.
The show has recently made a deliberate effort to encourage applications from women and minority-owned businesses. Back in April of 2016, a press release announced a casting call in New York that was part of a casting tour organized by Values Partnerships. It was “designed to support minority entrepreneurs and bring more diverse ideas and voices to the show.”
Brandon Andrews, a consultant with Values Partnerships, wrote last month in Black Enterprise that past such casting calls had resulted in some Shark Tank deals. Piper Wai, the makers of a natural deodorant, forged a partnership with Barbara Corcoran in Season 7. The company came to the show through a Values Partnership effort.
But Andrews wrote that the initiative does more than simply invite people from underrepresented communities, including individuals who identify as female, Hispanic, African-American or veterans, to pitch the sharks. They are offered specific skills to help them promote their business to potential investors. The extra step is because, according to Andrews, 70 percent of U.S. businesses are owned or led by white men. There is therefore room for entrepreneurial growth in underrepresented communities.
“At each of our casting calls, we offered a pitch prep session with tips gleaned from hearing thousands of pitches. Recognizing that access to capital remains the No. 1 one issue for minority entrepreneurs, in each city, we also organized an access to capital discussion with local funders, including banks, venture capital firms, angel investors, and local governments.”
The objective was to help entrepreneurs by providing free resources and information they could use in their businesses, regardless of whether or not they made it on Shark Tank. Andrews and his associates did this by partnering with local and national organizations committed to expanding representation within entrepreneurship. They created a pitch toolkit in partnership with the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center.
But this was not the first year that Shark Tank has made deliberate efforts to recruit and encourage minority entrepreneurs to apply. Quartz reported in April, 2016, that the show has done this over the past four seasons, going back to 2013. In its headline, Quartz said the show had the “same problem as the rest of the startup world,” referring broadly to its lack of diversity.
Fans of Shark Tank are by now well-accustomed to seeing pitches on the program from individuals who may not identify as white men. These entrepreneurs are getting deals and they are making money. For a few years now, Kevin O’Leary has often repeated that he will bet on female business owners without hesitation. In May, 2015, he told Business Insider that his women-owned investments off Shark Tank were making him the most money. At the time, 55 percent of his 27 Shark Tank companies had female CEOs.
“All the cash in the last two quarters is coming from companies run by women. I don’t have a single company run by a man right now that’s outperformed the ones run by women.
Business Insider suggested to O’Leary that women’s reputations for being good at multitasking might be a potential contributor to their success at running companies.
“These are midrange companies in the sales range of five to 10 million dollars, so that multitasking could be very important. Large corporations are a different thing, but when you’re doing venture investing like I am, it’s startup to mid-level. They’ve got to work their tails off. They’ve got to work like hell.”
O’Leary said he has “no bias” and does not look at gender when deciding whether or not to invest in an entrepreneur.
Viewers can see some of the entrepreneurs recruited through the Values Partnerships casting calls during Season 8. The season premiere airs Friday, September 23 on ABC.
[Featured Image by Paul A. Hebert/Getty Images]