Craig Shoemaker and Kent Griswold have been teaming up for projects since they were in class together as kids, although sometimes unbeknownst to the teacher.
“Kent was the smartest guy in third grade and I used to cheat off of him,” Shoemaker said with a laugh. “Then he got too smart and went to private school in seventh grade, and I had to find someone else to cheat off of.”
Both ended up excelling in their respective professions and the two Philadelphia natives are teaming up on a much bigger project that will help others excel — with no cheating involved.
Shoemaker, an Emmy award-winning comedian and producer, and Griswold, a Harvard grad with an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School and a Ph.D. in Health Administration, have created a reality television series reinvigorating entrepreneurial spirit in the city they grew up in.
Wolf PAC of Philadelphia makes its debut on Amazon Prime on Jan. 12. The show is similar to ABC’s Shark Tank, but focuses on local business owners who are looking to take their company to the next level by impressing a group of investors. The investors, or Wolf PAC (President’s Advisory Council), explore the positive impact of investment in the Philadelphia community, while helping start-ups find their entrepreneurial footing.
“This really appealed to me on so many levels,” said Shoemaker, the show’s creator and producer. “Especially that it’s Kent, from third grade. He showed me a pilot show, and I reached out to him and said this can be so much more. I was honest with him and I said, ‘Here are the ways we can get there.’ ”
Wolf PAC of Philadelphia goes a step further in adding elements of philanthropy and mentorship. Investors and advisers, who include a panel of Griswold, Leslie Gudel, Leonard Lodish, Courtney Lawless and Judy Chang Cody, do much more than just listen to sales pitches before deciding to invest their personal finances in these start-ups. In each episode, the Wolves evaluate the companies before providing crucial mentorship, marketing strategies and connections to help a small business reach national fame.
“We package differently than Shark Tank in that there’s isn’t as much fluff,” said Griswold, the founder and host. “We actually dove down into one company for (each episode). We have an educational component and most importantly a nonprofit component where we feature a charity of interest to the company that we are featuring that show with the hope that other companies would emulate that and pay it forward from our example.”
The show stresses the importance of philanthropy, highlighting Philadelphia-based charities important to the entrepreneurs such as the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation, the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, Sharing Excess and the Kelly Anne Dolan Memorial Fund.
Wolf PAC Philadelphia has an obvious local flavor, especially in South Philly, as the group congregates at Lincoln Financial Field for their meetings in a suite at the 50-yard line of the football field. Other notorious spots for filming include Moshulu on South Christopher Columbus Boulevard, Geno’s Steaks in the Italian Market and Francoluigi’s Pizzeria & Italian Kitchen on South 13th Street. Tony Luke Jr. and former Eagles Seth Joyner and Brian Dawkins also have roles on the show.
“But while this show is about Philadelphia, I think it’s of interest to everyone around the world,” Griswold said. “The concepts that work here are going to work elsewhere. Somebody that loves a food show but lives in Seattle is still going to watch that food show. People watch Housewives of New Jersey or West Texas Investors Club, but not just because of the regionality.”
And there’s a lot on the line. In each installment of the four-episode series, entrepreneurs vie for the panel’s funding of up to $500,000 and the PAC’s professional expertise to help accelerate their growth. The show features a wide range of local startup industries, including beauty, sports, consumer packaged goods and food.
“It’s an organic, authentic show,” Shoemaker said. “It’s representative of Philadelphia and it’s perfect for us because we’re from there and we know the community. There’s nothing like a Philadelphian and we hope that we show that within the show with the businesses, our locations, the Eagles — all of it.”
Some cash in with interested investors. But those who didn’t were still helped along by the show’s creators in some facet.
“We try to do a lot of mentorships even with the companies that we decide not to invest in,” Griswold said. “I’m in regular contact with them to help them move forward because my hope is that down the road, they will be investable and we might re-engage at that point.”
The pack of wolves is growing larger by the episode.
“Every owner of these businesses truly represents the feel of Philadelphia,” Shoemaker said. “Just good, genuine people. And we hope everyone is going to see that each episode.”
Watch the show here