The entrepreneurial ecosystem at Gannon’s Center for Business Ingenuity caught national attention during the airing of ‘Undercover Billionaire,’ an eight-part TV series on the Discovery Channel.
Billionaire Glenn Stearns, founder of mortgage company Stearns Lending, LLC, went undercover in Erie as Glenn Bryant to build a business valued at $1 million in 90 days. If he didn’t meet that challenge, he vowed to invest $1 million of his own money into the business.
“When I got to Erie I realized after a short time how many people are good, hardworking folks who want to make a living and help others. I was excited about being here,” Stearns said.
That’s when the entrepreneurial resources at Gannon stepped in. Maggie Horne, director of the Small Business Development Center at Gannon, explained that producers contacted Gannon searching for community resources to assist entrepreneurs.
“There are resources people don’t know about in a lot of communities – one being small business centers that are all over the country. ...I was surprised by how many services they had to offer.”
“We helped with understanding the industry and the environment to identify what was needed and would be accepted within the community. We researched and talked about the kinds of businesses that would make an impact, create jobs, and really help in the small business focus and movement here in Erie,” Horne said.
The SBDC, Dahklemper School of Business, Erie Technology Incubator and Gannon’s node of the Northwest Pennsylvania Innovation Beehive Network worked one-on-one with Stearns to provide insight into Erie’s business landscape and introduce him to various community contacts.
“There are resources people don’t know about in a lot of communities — one being small business centers that are all over the country,” Stearns said. “I was surprised by how many services they had to offer.”
Students in Gannon’s business programs worked directly with the undercover billionaire to support him as they do all clients explained Richard Makowski ’18, ’19M, a current junior business consultant at SBDC.
“We compiled industry research and competition analysis, then explained the reports to Glenn when he was looking at starting one of three business ideas,” Makowski said. “Even though we didn’t know who he was at the time, we could tell he was not your average entrepreneur. He had that ‘it’ factor.”
This research led Stearns to open what is now the Underdog BBQ restaurant.
Glenn Stearns, owner of mortgage company Stearns Lending, LLC, posing undercover as Glenn Bryant.
The students found their time with Stearns was an invaluable experience. “It was a professional lesson to see that even after you make billions of dollars you can still be approachable. He didn’t need to do this, but still chose to give back,” Makowski said.
Declan Bingham ’19, a Beehive employee and current MBA student, added: “If we wanted to start a business tomorrow we would all have a good sense of what to do to make that happen because of the experiences working here.”
“Through working at the Beehive, I have gained the skills to create logos and create websites,” said Kaan Say, another Beehive employee and MBA student. “I never had these skills before working here.”
Rich Hauser, Ph.D., associate professor of finance and economics in Gannon’s Dahlkemper School of Business, also assisted Stearns. He was the expert who valued the business. Although Underdog BBQ fell short of the million-dollar value, Hauser identified it as having potential to quickly reach that value through a diversified business strategy.
Not only did Stearns and his team create and open a business in Erie, Stearns also invested $50,000 at the end of the show to establish the Underdog Entrepreneurial Foundation to award microgrants to eligible entrepreneurs. Gannon’s SBDC will play an advisory role and funnel candidates to apply and pitch their business to the Foundation.
With Underdog BBQ now employing nearly 60 people, Stearns is hopeful for the future of the business and for Erie. “The idea is to continue to have Erie help itself. As the restaurant has profit, I hope it’ll continue to help this initial investment and the community grow,” Stearns said.
As on the show, Stearns said, “I wanted people to see that you don’t need a lot of money. If you have inspiration and aspiration, and you’re able to really gather people around you and your dream you can make it.”