What? You’ve Never Watched ‘Shark Tank’?

“I’ve never watched Shark Tank before,” said the woman, the owner of a graphic design business.

“What?,” I responded, with the look I must have had on my face when my doctor told me I’d never be six feet tall.

“I’ve never watched Shark Tank,” she repeated.

“What?,” I responded again. “You have to watch Shark Tank! It should be required viewing for all business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs!”

This exchange took place in Las Vegas this past weekend at the 2012 Blogalicious Conference, an annual gathering of multicultural women bloggers and social media enthusiasts. I was there to help get the word out about the 2012-2013 edition of the MillerCoors Urban Entrepreneurs Series (MUES) Business Plan Competition, an opportunity for entrepreneurs to compete for a share of $150,000 in business grants of at least $25,000 each. Black Enterprise is an official media partner of MUES, and I’ve been a national judge for the business plan competition since its inception nearly 12 years ago. At a reception hosted by MUES at Blogalicious12, I described, as I often do, the national round of judging for the MUES business plan contest as Shark Tank before there was a Shark Tank on television, which is what triggered the above exchange.

For those who don’t know, Shark Tank is a reality show on ABC-TV during which ordinary entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to wealthy ‘Sharks’–including FUBU Founder Daymond John, real estate doyenne Barbara Corcoran, Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, and venture capitalist Kevin O’Leary–in hopes of getting them to invest in their respective businesses. The show is extremely entertaining, in part because the Sharks are so brutal when the entrepreneurs and ideas are lacking, and super predatory when it’s a great business opportunity to sink their teeth–and money–into. However, unlike most reality shows, those characteristics add to, not diminish, the realism of the experience. Because one of the hardest things to learn to do, but a critical skill you must have as an entrepreneur seeking capital, is to be smart enough, prepared enough, tough enough and credible enough to talk a person into writing a check, whether for $25,000, $2.5 million or $25 million, to invest in your idea, your business–to invest in you.

Shark Tank does a great job of this, forcing entrepreneurs to defend their business planning (or lack thereof), how they came to their valuation of their business, how much (or little) they’ve personally invested, and even the very viability of the business concept they may have poured their life savings into. Which is exactly what you’ll face when you compete for business grants through a program like MUES, enter elevator pitch competitions now popular at business events (including the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference) or get a chance to meet with small business lenders, angel investors and venture capitalists. The time to learn what you need to do to raise capital and attract investors to your business is before you need the money.

So, entrepreneurs and aspiring business owners: you must watch Shark Tank, if you want to get important clues and examples of how your business looks through the eyes of a potential lender, investor or other source of capital. If you didn’t know, now you know.

I’m happy to report that the owner of the graphics business tweeted to me that she watched Shark Tank for the first time this week.