‘Cleveland Hustle’ offers glimpse at entrepreneurial journey

At a recent event for technology entrepreneurs, I learned about Israel’s Startup Nation initiatives focusing on priming the pump and supporting technology entrepreneurs in their community.

I took away a fact from that conversation that has been spinning in my head for a while. Not about technology and not about Israel. The speaker was discussing investment in the U.S. and noted that there are more than 10 million “accredited investors” in the U.S. and that only 2 percent have ever invested in startups as angels.

Defined as $200,000 in individual net income or $300,000 in household income or $1 million in net worth, there are a lot of you reading this that have the ability to get directly involved and haven’t. That’s a lot of money and a lot of energy on the sidelines.

More locally, we’ve had some fun in the last few months watching the journey of four small business owners aided by four entrepreneurs navigate the pursuit of growth for their business and investment in Cleveland’s Gordon Square neighborhood. If you haven’t seen “Cleveland Hustles” on CNBC, it’s been a great ride and it’s worth finding an episode or two on the web or on demand to catch the fever.

The Cleveland Hustle entrepreneurs aren’t the kind of companies that get a lot of publicity. These are “grinders” — small business owners with main street products and services that add jobs one at a time and can really change the communities where they invest.

Don’t get me wrong, we want the hyper-growth technology stars, too. But watching the “Cleveland Hustles” crew gut it out is a way more realistic look at the challenges, risks and day-to-day successes that face many of our region’s small business owners.

For these owners, navigating regulation, finding customers on the street, budget overruns and blown meetings go hand-in-hand with regular pivots on brand, product and approach on the journey to their version of success.

If you watch an episode, you’ll walk away feeling like there is some way that you could help. From making an investment, connecting them to a resource or just buying their product — there is something each of us can do to support what they are doing.

But the folks at Cleveland Bagel, Fount, Groundworks and Old City Libations are the lucky ones, benefiting by the visibility of the show; the “Cleveland Hustles” entrepreneurs represent tens of thousands of others just like them in other neighborhoods all around the region.

You don’t need to be an accredited investor to get involved in helping a local entrepreneur expand their business. The 2 percent statistic is just a great illustration of the number of people and resources “on the sidelines” that can be tapped for help, but aren’t. What local brands or businesses are you passionate about?

Have a conversation with just one small business owner that you believe in and that you think you could be helpful to — they’ll be glad for your interest.

Steve Millard is president and executive director at the Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE)