On Dick Clark's old dancing ground, the Grit Live podcast aims to be 'the Pandora of entrepreneurs'

Enterprise Center president Della Clark (right) and Anthony Dixon, project manager of The Grit Live, in the new podcast recording studio.

On a site that the late Dick Clark made famous with American Bandstand, the Enterprise Center has been busting different moves the last 20 years.

The nonprofit has been preparing minorities for entrepreneurship with financial training, business-plan preparation, and access to capital, among other support, from the former WFIL-TV Studios building at 46th and Market Streets.

The aid has been offered in classrooms, offices, and the cavernous conference space (formerly Studio B) from which the rock-and-roll dance party Bandstand was broadcast from the 1950s until Clark moved the show to California in 1964.

But this is the digital age, and learning has transcended brick and mortar. College degrees can be earned online. And time-starved entrepreneurs want access to help when and where it suits their schedules.

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Recognizing that, the Enterprise Center has now added the Grit Live, which offers video and audio podcasts available for download on speaker.com and Apple iTunes, among other podcast distributors. Its creators hope entrepreneurs and those in the making will find it a valuable resource.

“Since I think big, my vision is to become the Pandora of entrepreneurs,” said Della Clark, the Enterprise Center’s president since 1992, when internet radio wasn’t even a thing. “The goal is to make the Grit Live a new listening movement toward learning where you are.”

Clark — no relation to Dick, who died in 2012 — is well-acquainted with the challenges of those she serves as an African American woman who had her own consulting and bottled-water business.

Camera icon FILE ART
Dick Clark became a household name in Philadelphia and across the U.S. with his American Bandstand rock-and-roll dance show, initially broadcast from the WFIL-TV studios in West Philadelphia.

The name of the studio is a nod to a trait essential for any successful entrepreneur, Clark said.

“It takes a lot of grit to succeed,” she said. “It’s not an easy journey.”

Wanting to help smooth the road is why Clark, a graduate from American University with an accounting degree, accepted the offer to lead the Enterprise Center three years after the Wharton Small Business Development Center created it to broaden its reach in West Philadelphia. It was before internet access and coworking spaces were ubiquitous, making entry to entrepreneurship largely accessible to those of substantial means and/or vast networks, Clark said.

Today, the Enterprise Center is a multifaceted organization. In addition to the resources-rich center itself, which Clark said assists about 600 businesses a year, it includes a community development corporation, a commercial kitchen at 48th & Spruce Streets (the Dorrance H. Hamilton Center for Culinary Enterprises), and a financing agency that provides loans from $2,500 to $200,000 through its status as a community development financial institution and U.S. Small Business Administration microloan intermediary, according to the Enterprise Center’s website. About 100 loans totaling nearly $3 million are currently outstanding, Clark said.

Among those who turned to the Enterprise Center for help and have gone on to build thriving companies is Angelo Perryman, whose Perryman Building & Construction Services Inc. oversaw construction at the Wells Fargo Center for the Democratic National Convention, and has handled such other big jobs as the LOVE Park reconstruction and expansion of the Convention Center.

Another successful alum is Noel Lowe, president of  FutureNet Inc., which began repairing typewriters and now is a multimillion dollar information technology company. Its clients include the City of Philadelphia, IBM, SEPTA, and Unisys, according to the firm’s website. Both companies are based in Philadelphia.

The decision to branch into podcasting was made last summer during a conversation with a former Enterprise Center board member and continuing adviser, Rick Forman, founder of Forman Mills, a chain of retail outlets that the South Jersey resident sold in October 2016. One of his stores was two blocks from the Enterprise Center at 48th and Market Streets.

Wanting to more efficiently connect entrepreneurs to each other and to resources, “I got to thinking, we have these old radio rooms,” Clark recalled.

She was referring to what staff had dubbed space just beyond the lobby as “the nasty room,” so called because of tremendous clutter that had accumulated there over the years. Giving it a 21st-century purpose as a podcast studio seemed “perfect” to Forman, who provided the approximately $100,000 needed for renovations, he said.

“I just think in the modern time, like now, that’s the way to illuminate the Enterprise Center,” and, in the process, help more entrepreneurs, Forman said. “I don’t think a lot of people know about it.”

On a morning last month, Melissa Alam (right), cofounder of AB Media Group, a Philadelphia start-up specializing in branding and digital marketing, sat down for an interview at the Grit Live with Tiffany Spraggins-Payne, host of the podcast show ZigZag.

Podcasts are especially attractive to millennials, largely because of their on-demand availability, affording consumers the flexibility of choosing what they want to listen to and when. Among some of the more popular podcasts are This American Life, Pod Save America, TED Radio Hour, How I Built This, and The Moth.

With such a crowded field, the Grit Live will have “to be gritty” to stand out, Forman said. That will require CEOs talking about “real-life” experiences in building their businesses — even the lowest moments, he said.

“There’s nothing that’s good or bad,” Forman said of the trials of business development, suggesting they’re all learning experiences. “It’s a matter of showing that persistence, taking away the fear.”

A solid social media following would help, too, he said, confessing that Clark wanted him to be one of the podcast hosts until she heard he “only has 2,000 followers” on Facebook and other sites combined, Forman said, laughing. “I didn’t make the grade.”

The Grit Live started producing content in February, including shows on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), the food industry, and finances. Others on sales, business mind-set and CREAM (credit, risk, equity, assets, and management) were expected to be added in June. Clark turned to a much younger insider, Anthony Dixon, a portfolio manager and business coach at the Enterprise Center, to run the podcast initiative.

“This is a millennial project and I’m not a millennial,” said Clark, who asked that her age not be published.

Dixon, 33, a native of Nicetown and a serial entrepreneur who has worked at the Enterprise Center since November 2016, said he had never listened to podcasts before Clark approached him about serving as project manager for the Grit Live.

Camera icon STEVEN M. FALK
In this 2012 picture, April Johnson of West Philadelphia looks at the historical marker where American Bandstand started in the 1950s.

Calling it “a complement” to the center’s programs, Dixon said the goal of the podcast “is to deliver content that drives thought-provoking actions in our clients. That can be accomplished by creating and partnering to bring much-needed content to our minority entrepreneurs.”

A search is ongoing not only for podcast guests but sponsors, he said.

Guests so far have included Vic Pinckney, a former sous chef at Starr Restaurants, bound for Spain to teach English and learn about Spanish cuisine. He talked about the benefits of being a sous chef, including being able “to see things from the ground up and not just from seeing things from the stage … seeing how things are created.” He advised people getting into the restaurant business to speak up when they encounter things that seem wrong and “document things, things that may seem sexist, racist.”

In another show, Quanisha Green, the founder of Black Woman CEO and a business coach, defined success as “you designing a life worth living … where you can really, truly show up as yourself, be uncompromising … and you can be highly compensated, highly loved just for that.”

What would Dick Clark think of the Grit Live?

“I think he would be proud,” said Clark, who got to meet the radio personality and Top 40 aficionado when he returned to his old Bandstand haunt for events. “I used to say to him, ‘When you were here, it was about music and entertainment, and today it’s about business.’ He liked that.”