One reason for the rise of an entire new television genre known as “reality TV” is that the people in the shows are one of us. There are no trained actors, no scripts. There are just regular people rising and falling, triumphing and struggling, winning and losing. Two new series – one on television and one online – follow the true life stories of aspiring entrepreneurs.
In a recent piece on National Public Radio about ABC’s new reality show American Inventor, the commentator posed the question “Can it do for geeks what American Idol did for pop singers?” Given that one of the shows’ producers is infamous American Idol judge Simon Cowell, it just might.
The show seeks to search for the next great invention with wide consumer appeal. Finalists are chosen by a panel of experts who will narrow down the initial entries to a group of finalists. Finalists will each get $50,000 to develop their product, refine it, and take it to the next level.
The idea is to end up with one winner whose idea will end up with the one million dollar prize and the chance to see their invention become the next mass produced product like Cabbage Patch Kids®, the George Foreman Grill®, Post-It® or Rubik’s Cube®. The show copies the American Idol formula of showing the most bizarre contestants during the audition round, which of course helps keep viewers entertained.
Some have complained that the producers are rejecting some outstanding inventions for the sake of comedy. While that is no doubt true, you can’t help but be inspired by the creativity, the drive, and the heart of these determined inventors. The show airs on Thursday nights at 9:00 p.m Eastern.
Whether you’re a fan of reality television or not, if you want to ditch your job to do your own thing you may want to check out the AOL Small Business site’s online reality series tracing real entrepreneurs efforts to start their companies.
Without giving too much away…
Two of the entrepreneurs you’ll meet there are 43-year-old Dan Kastor and 54-year-old Gary Kostlan. Dan and Gary both worked for the same multi-national company. In fact, for a while, Dan was Gary’s boss. In the beginning both men enjoyed their jobs. But the constant travel began to take a toll on their family lives.
One day the two former co-workers ran into each other at, where else, the airport. They got to talking over a beer and the conversation turned to the usual rant about workplace frustrations. That’s when Gary told Dan that he’d been thinking of hopping off the fast track to spend more time with his family. He also mentioned a business idea he’d code named the “Rocky Project” after the beloved family dog that had recently died. But that’s all he would say.
Like most business ideas, Gary’s idea didn’t come to fruition until sometime after that chance meeting with Dan. Fed up with his corporate job, Gary quit to start his own quality control consulting company. When his first client sent him to California for three months, he started thinking in earnest about the Rocky Project. So he picked up the phone and called his old boss. That’s when he finally told Dan all about the Rocky Project…
Today the two men work as equal partners but from their respective homes outside of Detroit and Cleveland. And what is the Rocky Project? Well what do you get when you combine dogs and ice cream? A winning combination for a business idea that has a lot of people saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
You’ll also be able to follow the entrepreneurial ups and downs of Keith West-Harrison and Andre West-Harrison. Keith and Andre owned two businesses in hurricane ravaged New Orleans – a day spa and a bed and breakfast. As is often the case, sometimes disasters bring unexpected blessings. The series tracks their efforts to re-start their businesses post-Katrina and how the process spawned an entirely new business – and a whole new life.
The third business profiled is former trolley tour conductor turned self-taught haute couture clothing designer named Grace Edwards. When Grace’s husband’s job brought them to New York City, she got a retail job at the high-end department store Henri Bendel. A lot of people find retail boring, but it was here that Grace caught the fashion bug. The fact that she doesn’t sew did nothing to deter her new dream of being not just a fashion designer but a household name.
Watch as the 50-year-old mother went through the emotional ups and downs of racking up $30,000 in credit card debt to launch her clothing line to the drama of having just two weeks to get ready for a fashion show in Washington, D.C. Will Grace’s company make it? Can her husband afford to keep funding her creative pursuits? Will her new partner, a guy who is actually working for free because he “knew from the start that this was going to be a fun ride,” stick around long enough for the company to turn a profit? Roll over Guiding Light – this is real drama!
To tune in to all watch episodes of these real life stories right on your computer, read the ongoing blogs from the entrepreneurs themselves, and see behind the scenes photos go to SmallBusiness.AOL.com/thestartup
This is the kind of “reality” every aspiring self-bosser will want to be in touch with. If you don’t have the good fortune to be surrounded by entrepreneurs whom you can watch and learn from, check this series out. If nothing else it will be a good reality check about what it takes to go after a dream – the good, the bad, the amazing, and the utterly inspiring.