LeBron James' dream came true in June when he delivered a championship title to the city of Cleveland.
Now he's helping to pay it forward with a new reality show.
Executive produced by James and business partner Maverick Carter, Cleveland Hustles (Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET, CNBC) matches four local business leaders with eight Cleveland-area entrepreneurs. Each leader selects a business to invest in and works with the entrepreneur to open a brick-and-mortar store in underserved Cleveland neighborhoods.
“We’re giving people an opportunity to live out a dream and giving small-business owners a chance to do what they love to do,” said James, who grew up in nearby Akron.
It’s a reality show with a purpose — creating jobs, supporting local businesses and improving neighborhoods.
James recruited the investors: Kumar Arora, a self-proclaimed "serial investor"; Kathy Futey, a certified private wealth adviser and winery owner; Alan Glazen, a former advertising executive specializing in revitalization; and Jonathon Sawyer, an award-winning James Beard chef.
In the show, which is similar to ABC's Shark Tank, 20 fledgling businesses pitch their product or business idea to the panel of investors. The eight making the final cut include a craft-soda manufacturer, a bagel maker, a barbecue owner, a stylist hoping to open a hair salon, a maker of high-end leather goods and an artisanal honey maker. The businesses ask for an investment in exchange for a stake in profits.
“These people have a real drive and a connection to Cleveland, and they believe in what they’re doing and they want to become great entrepreneurs,” James said.
In the opening scene of the first episode, James’ famous words describing the Cleveland ethos are on the screen: “Nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you get.”
Then James lays out his goal: “To revitalize Cleveland, we need to work block by block and street by street. I wanted to invest my time and influence to create a movement that can strengthen our community and transform neighborhoods.”
Cleveland is on the economic rebound and making strides in revitalization — behind Pittsburgh but ahead of Detroit. Cleveland Hustles reveals the grit, determination, work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit of northeast Ohioans.
“It’s where my day job is and to be able to create more opportunities for people in their day jobs is definitely a treat,” James said.
In the first episode, Glazen focused on the bagel company and hair salon owner and put them through a series of challenges. The bagel company had to open a pop-up store, generate at least $400 in sales and prove that customers like their frozen bagels more than a leading brand. The hair salon owner had to open a pop-up salon and get 12 stylists to sign up for a lease in a loft.
At the end of the episode, he picked the business in which he will invest and help open a store in Cleveland’s Gordon Square. In the next episode, Sawyer will evaluate two companies and pick one.
The show premieres at an exciting time for James. His LeBron James Family Foundation continues to assist kids in Akron and northeast Ohio, and he just welcomed a new group of third-graders to his Wheels for Education program.
Now, his burgeoning entertainment company — SpringHill Entertainment, named after the apartment complex he lived in in Akron — is helping create economic opportunities for small-business owners.
“What I enjoy most about it is I have a passion for doing multiple things and using my version to be able to bring it to fruition,” James said. “To have that vision and have people around us that can make the vision a reality is the ultimate.”