Flint, Michigan’s budding start-up community is getting its own homegrown version of Shark Tank, but with a more diverse investor base of movers and shakers who’ve overcome their own hurdles to make it.
Michigan local Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, retired NFL-er Victor Cruz and Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani are among the celebrities and business leaders that will work with an arm of 32 Ventures, founded by Robert Wolf, former UBS Americas Chairman. The group will vet and fund the most promising early-stage entrepreneurs in Flint, Michigan (after the candidates clear the 100K ideas pipeline) via 100K Ventures, a newly formed accelerator group.
“This is not a foundation or charity...this is capital for good. We are going to be investing in these companies,” Wolf tells FOX Business.
Wolf, who helped steer his former investment firm during the 2008 financial crisis, is no stranger to navigating the choppy world of investing, or politics, having served as an economic advisor on several issues under President Obama.
After the initial seed money, Wolf and the founding members of 100K Ventures will advise these start-ups as they grow into proper businesses.
Green's ties to Michigan are deep. He attended Saginaw High School before heading to Michigan State University. Both of which are within spitting distance of Flint. Not only is the NBA baller a local, he is an entrepreneur in his own right as an owner of Blink Fitness franchises in the Midwest. He is also an investor in Smile Direct Club, the remote dentistry company. He's now involved in the notoriously tough startup world after being “given a chance,” he tweeted.
Other founding members include Minority Owner of the Philadelphia Eagles Christina Weiss Lurie, former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan, MLB Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign Meena Harris, journalist and executive producer Soledad O'Brien, Financial Advisor Jaime Taicher and Flint’s Skypoint Ventures’ Phil Hagerman.
Although Flint is still dealing with the fallout from the water crisis, the hunt for entrepreneurs is not political, Wolf says. Some of the promising start-ups already on their radars include a toy maker, a fashion brand and a health-related app. Because Flint also traces its roots to the auto industry, which itself is undergoing a transformation, the group could see some car tech innovators roll their way. The group expects to select the first crop of candidates as early as the first quarter of 2019, FOX Business has learned.
While Flint is ground zero for this new venture, the longer range plan is to bring the program to other underserved communities. Some members of 100K Ventures already visited Akron and Youngstown, Ohio, as well as South Bend, Indiana on a delegation led by Rep. Tim Ryan [D-OH] and Rep. Ro Khanna [D-CA].
However, Wolf stressed to FOX Business that the group “must be successful in Flint” before adding other cities. “We have to get Flint right,” he said.
Suzanne O'Halloran is Managing Editor of FOXBusiness.com and is a graduate of Boston College. Follow her on Twitter @suzohalloran