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'Shark' Investor Highlights Urban League Luncheon

This article was originally published on TimesFreePress.com.


The man who transformed dead air space into infomercials and was an original investor on NBC television's "Shark Tank" will share wisdom he's gleaned from four decades as an entrepreneur with local businesses this month.

Kevin Harrington was an obvious fit for the May 26 Urban League of Greater Chattanooga Third Annual Entrepreneur Power Luncheon, said Warren E. Logan, Jr., the organization's president and CEO.

"We think he does a lot from the standpoint of new businesses and ongoing concerns," Logan said.

Harrington's talk will come shortly after the Urban League's May 12 launch of its inaugural business-growth program Next-Level Chattanooga. The program, which has 15 participants, works with businesses that are up to three years old and have $250,000 to $10 million in annual revenue.

"A lot of them are trying to get and go where he is," Logan said.

Harrington's list of business pursuits runs long and spans startups, many his own, and behemoth corporations like Microsoft and AT&T. Today he has equity stakes in about 15 companies, mentors many others and has been involved with over 500 product launches that resulted in sales of more than $4 billion dollars. He was in some 175 Shark Tank episodes, which still run on CNBC. He has a deep reservoir of memories and experience to tap.

"I have a lot of stories and things I like to talk about," said Harrington, 58, who lives in St. Petersburg, Fla. "It's not all positive. I talk about some of the good times, some of the bad times."

In 1980, Harrington started the Small Business Center and Franchise America in Cincinnati, his hometown. That was long before crowdfunding offered anyone with a flash of an idea ways to monetize it and before venture capitalists' pockets bulged with money for tech startups. Back then, Harrington rented out the floor of a downtown office building and worked as a real estate and business broker, selling a dozen businesses a month, and then helping those delis, flower shops and pizza parlors with everything from keeping their books straight to public relations.

"We were a one-stop center for small businesses," he said.

But big companies, he learned, need help too. He's worked with managers at AT&T, helping bridge gaps among the telecom giant's divisions in order to sell new products, he said. One of the models he employed was not so different from the pitch format of Shark Tank.

"It's sort of like giving the employees inside a big company an entrepreneur's view to take the company to the next level," he said. His talk should touch on topics that help larger and more-established businesses too.

Harrington isn't the only highlight of the May 26 event. The Urban League also plans to honor a minority business person, a woman-owned business and an emerging business.