WILMINGTON – The PBS reality show “Start Up,” which profiles entrepreneurs across the U.S., is putting a magnifying glass on the southeast in its ninth season. Four of its 13 episodes will be filmed in the Cape Fear early next month.
The Emmy-nominated docuseries will showcase TRU Colors Brewery, Sea Love Sea Salt Co., Bitty & Beau’s Coffee and Genesis Block.
Created and hosted by Gary Bredow, the series has traveled from Kansas City to New Haven to Atlanta, and this time is following diverse entrepreneurs in Wilmington, Savannah and Charleston. Each episode hones in on one business for just under 30 minutes. The season is expected to emphasize how companies innovatively survived the pandemic.
“I believe that 2021 is about revival,” Bredow said. “Businesses are starting to adapt in ways we’ve never seen before. In a lot of respects, they’re right sizing and making their businesses more durable, in an effort to withstand these extreme challenges.”
“Start Up” is shown on televisions in over 96% of households nationally and airs on more than 350 PBS stations, Create TV Network and World Channel, according to a press release.
“This is a huge opportunity for us to not just show our businesses but also show our city,” said Jim Roberts, founder of Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW).
NEW, along with Wilmington Angels for Local Entrepreneurs, is hosting “Start Up” while it’s filming in the region. For two-plus years, Roberts wrote to the show in hopes that producers would travel to the North Carolina coast to see what local entrepreneurs have to offer.
“Wilmington’s not something that was on my radar, and it’s not something that I heard of, really, as a place that had all these interesting entrepreneurs,” producer and casting director Jenny Feterovich said. “However, you guys have a great ecosystem, great environment.”
“Start Up” was eyeing the Wilmington area prior to the pandemic. When lockdowns hit, the show chose to instead shoot its eighth season in Michigan, the producers’ home state, to limit traveling. Producers hadn’t forgotten about Wilmington by the time they were ready to plan for the next season on the road.
“I just kept pursuing the opportunity and persistence has paid off,” Roberts said.
Roberts said his organization wants to display how coastal business owners see beyond tourism and seasonal work. He hopes the exposure will attract new companies to the area and create jobs.
Right now Roberts views Wilmington as in the “shadow of Raleigh, Durham and Charlotte,” despite the city actually boasting a vibrant entrepreneurial community. The city recently ranked in the top 100 emerging startup ecosystems globally, according to Startup Genome.
Feterovich said “Start Up” was looking at 20 to 30 businesses in Wilmington before narrowing it down to the chosen four. The producers prefer to feature newer companies or, more so, those with “a really good story.”
Bitty & Beau’s Coffee said PBS approached them about sharing the company’s mission. Named after the owners’ two youngest children — both born with Down syndrome — Bitty & Beau’s Coffee provides jobs to those who may otherwise become part of the 80% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are unemployed in the country.
The Wilmington-based company expanded rapidly in recent years. Between 2016 and 2018, new locations popped up in Charleston, Savannah and Annapolis. This past year the business sold 10 franchises, some of which aren’t open yet, from Washington, D.C. to Waco, T.X.
“We’ve been going through a lot of growth recently and maybe just jumped on their radar for that reason,” Amy Wright, founder and CEO of Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, said.
The five- to six-person film crew will shoot at the company’s headquarters June 5, capturing how coffee beans journey from the roaster to the customer’s cup.
“I invite everybody in Wilmington to stop by on the fifth and be a part of it,” Wright said. “I think it’ll be a fun day.”
The show is also looking to highlight the shop’s perseverance through Covid-19. After a two-month closure, the business focused exclusively on carry-out for a period of time, then reopened to dine in at reduced capacity. Fortunately, Wright said, the company’s strong online presence sustained revenue.
On June 6, the show’s crew will move over to Genesis Block, a community collaborative that grows minority- and women-owned businesses. Founder Girard Newkirk said the plan is to shoot parts of the episode at its new downtown location, then move to a co-working space and possibly to the 1898 Memorial Park.
“We’re probably going to show the historical parallels from what happened here in 1898,” Newkirk said, speaking of the deadly coup d’état that overthrew the multiracial Fusionist municipal government that year. After the massacre, the Black population of Wilmington lost political and business power it had achieved. Minority-owned businesses felt the ramifications of the carnage for decades.
Genesis Block opened its formal location in November 2020, mid-pandemic. That timing meant they had to alter some original plans, Newkirk said, but there was a “silver lining.”
“It allowed us to truly get to understand what was needed in the community, as far as gaps in the ecosystem for minority and women-owned entrepreneurs and some of the smaller guys,” Newkirk explained. “It allowed us to have time to really understand what we needed to build Genesis Block to be.”
Diversity and entrepreneurship are both hot topics right now, Roberts noted. Small businesses were dealt some of the most adversity through the pandemic, putting them in the spotlight just as the Black Lives Matter movement sparked a push to support minority-owned businesses.
Amanda Jacobs, owner of Sea Love Sea Salt Co., assumes her business was selected due to the uniqueness of her product: a solar-evaporated sea salt, harvested by hand from the ocean. The salt is used for a range of purposes, from brewing craft beer at Watermans to lining the rim of margaritas at Ceviche’s to constituting body scrubs and soaks sold in local gift shops.
Jacobs believes she’s probably one of maybe five people pursuing her type of work in the country. Her product has remained a success story since it hit shelves seven years ago.
“I still have a hard time keeping my product in stock,” Jacobs said.
Videographers are planning to capture the entire process of developing the sea salt, from collecting material on Wrightsville Beach to filtering it on Jacob’s 5-acre farm in Burgaw to sprinkling it as the finishing local touch on a favorite dish in a restaurant.
The show is also filming an episode at TRU Colors, a brewery on Greenfield Street that hires active members of rival gangs to promote unity. Molson Coors –– the company behind popular brands Miller Lite and Coors Lite –– announced an investment in TRU Colors last month. TRU Colors is now preparing for its upcoming launch, putting beers on shelves for the first time, this summer.
“TRU Colors is going to be a huge success story for Wilmington,” Roberts said.
The filming will take place at the new headquarters, which includes the brewery, tasting room and accomodations for employees, such as a gym, child care center and podcasting studio.
Feterovich said more businesses are reaching out. Although this season is booked, producers are keeping other Wilmington establishments in mind for future projects.
“Everybody that was picked in Wilmington just really blew me away,” Feterovich said. “To be honest with you, I think I could shoot up the whole entire season, just from the sheer amount of great stories that you guys have.”
Send tips and comments to [email protected]