Publisher's Note: Swimming with the sharks

By Caro U. Rock

Like 6 million other loyal viewers who watch the television show Shark Tank, I am addicted. Shark Tank features budding entrepreneurs who rapidly pitch their new business ideas to a panel of savvy judges who might be willing to invest their own money. Contestants must have a product or service that can be scaled in size as well as a sound business plan and, usually, a patent on the product or idea.

This entrepreneurial spirit, which is essential in today's disruptive business environment, can also be seen in the family business arena. At our Transitions conferences, we often hear from NextGen and millennial attendees that they want to be part of the family business, but they don't necessarily want to make the family widget. Many have sought the family's backing for a related business idea.

Getting the senior generation's attention can often be frustrating. After hearing stories of young entrepreneurs who resorted to outside funding because their family failed to appreciate their ideas, we developed a special session that will debut at Transitions West 2017 in San Diego, November 1-3. We're calling it "Fam Tank," our own twist on the popular TV show. Hopefully, it will foster entrepreneurship in the family business.

In November, several entrepreneurs will present their ideas that relate in some fashion to their families' businesses. A panel of judges, all experienced in this area, will grill the presenters on their business plan, ROI for the family, financial goals and other criteria. Conference attendees will have an opportunity to comment on each presentation's connection to the family company and on the viability of the presenter's idea.

One example of a new idea backed by the family business is York Athletics, featured in our January/February 2017 issue. Brothers Kyle, Travis, Evan, Tyler and Dylan York proposed to their family a new venture—an Internet-based, direct-to-consumer company selling unique athletic shoes. This venture complemented their parents' retail store, Indian Head Athletics. According to Kyle, all of them agreed that it was essential to preserve "the dynamics of the family business."

Elizabeth Rees, profiled in our September/October 2015 issue and recently on our website, started Chasing Paper, a company that makes easily removable wallpaper. She developed the idea while working at Kubin-Nicholson, her family's printing business. She pitched her idea to the company's board and received an investment of $65,000 and the OK to move forward as a separate division of the family firm. The new venture has made her more passionate about the family business, she said.

At Transitions, no money will change hands, but Fam Tank should demonstrate to family leaders the importance of opening their minds to innovative ideas. Of course, there are risks to any venture, and while family companies are not immune, we hope to provide an opportunity to the next generation of leaders.

Copyright 2017 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

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September/October 2017

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