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A Friendlier Kind of Shark Tank

Off The Cuff with Project Pitch It’s Bev Greenberg

Feb. 14, 2017
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As anybody who’s received a recent cable bill has probably noticed, Time Warner Cable is now known as Spectrum. When Bev Greenberg joined the company in the ’80s, though, it was still known as Warner Cable. As the company’s vice president of regional programming, Greenberg was tasked with expanding its lineup of original programming and assisted in creating its first-in-the-country local sports channel, then known as Time Warner Cable Sports 32, as well as the iconic “Hang Tough” anti-drug video series.

Greenberg now works at Cardinal Stritch University as an executive in residence, but she hasn’t completely left TV development behind. She’s an executive producer on a new joint venture between the university and B&D Productions called “Project Pitch It,” which will begin its six-episode season on WISN channel 12 on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m. Greenberg spoke to Off the Cuff about the show, which invites Wisconsin entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses to a panel of local business leaders that includes BrightStar’s Mark Burish, the Milwaukee Bucks’ Peter Feigin, Stuck’s Jerry Jendusa and Lindy Enterprises’ Jim Lindenberg.

It must have been interesting doing original programming for Time Warner early on, since at that time that content model for cable companies hadn’t been established yet.

It hadn’t been! And when I started there, I had one week between my previous job as an associate director at the Zoological Society of Milwaukee County, and during that very week there was a headline in the Journal that read “Warner Cable Worst Company in the Country, Says Mayor Norquist.” So I looked at my husband and said, “Well, nobody will blame me I if don’t stay long [laughs]!” While it was a challenge, though, the company was a wonderful company, and its heart was in the right place. It wanted to make a positive difference not only within the cable industry, but within every community it served. So when you’re in an environment like that, and you’re listened to, which we were fortunate enough to be, you’re able to make a difference. We changed a culture and turned what was viewed as the worst cable operator in the country into a fabulous corporate citizen.

How did you get the idea for “Project Pitch It”?

It’s interesting. Before I even left Time Warner, which was six years ago, I was watching “Shark Tank,” and I thought, “You know, we need to do a local program just to highlight local moguls—people that should be respected, some who are known and some less known, so they can inspire us to do what they’ve done.” Of course, we know that Milwaukee is 34th in the country in entrepreneurism. A friend of mine once said, “If Milwaukee doesn’t become a destination for entrepreneurism, we are all doomed.” And he’s right. We wanted to showcase everything that people are accomplishing here.

What were you looking for in the entrepreneurs you recruited?

We were looking for entrepreneurs that would inspire people, because we want to move that needle. So we wanted entrepreneurs who had a great story to tell who could tell it with coaching on TV, and that would spark the audience to come up with their own businesses, and instead of just sitting on their idea to actually act on it. I think we found some outstanding entrepreneurs.

What sort of businesses are they pitching?

Everything. In the early auditions, we had people that had companies that were selling dog bones and companies that were into purifying water or that had juice that did miraculous things, so it ran the gamut from physical things that you could hold in your hand, to concepts for how you could create a more positive inner city. But you’ve got to watch the show to see them.

I imagine one of the challenges with a program like this is that it risks being in the shadow of “Shark Tank,” a show with really large investments and glamorous moguls. How do you capture that same excitement?

That’s a good question. We don’t like to compare ourselves to “Shark Tank.” It may have been the inspiration for the show, but that’s where it ended. We’re Midwesterners, all of us, so this show is a kinder, more nurturing show, and the structure is different. On each of the six shows, the four judges, or “moguls,” get to see three entrepreneurs, and they have a variety of awards they can give out. Their job is to come up with which of three awards would most benefit the three entrepreneurs. So nobody walks away empty handed. The idea is that we want to give these entrepreneurs the right stimulus so that they can succeed, or have these moguls, with their decades of experience, tell them which direction to go in. And they get the exposure from the TV show, too, of course, which should be very helpful to them as well. 

“Project Pitch It” airs on WISN 12 on Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. from Feb. 18 to May 6.

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