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TLC new competition show 'Girl Starter' features Buford's Olli Payne

This was posted Wednesday May 3, 2017 by Rodney Ho/ on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Entrepreneurship is as American as baseball and apple pie. But Jeannine Shao Collins feels there's a need for more women to start their own businesses and to encourage them when they're young. That's where the concept of "Girl Starter" came from, with a reality competition show as its central conceit.

The show, which debuted on TLC last Friday, offers up challenges similar to those on "The Apprentice," with the winner taking home $100,000 to work on their own business. In the first episode, the eight contestants were split into two teams, tasked to create a hot chocolate recipe and sell the drinkn on the streets of New York City. The winning team was the one that earned the most money. Afterwards, eight women ages 18 to 24 were split into pairs and will have to create and market a business over the next five episodes.

Buford's Olli Payne is one of the contestants who gets exposed to successful female entrepreneurs and advisors.

"What we're trying to do is show young people the possibilities," Collins said. "We need more mentoring. Amplified mentoring inspires the next generation. We want to expose them to different fields, places like medical devices and STEM research."

She also wants to instill confidence in these young women, to encourage them to take risks, that that failure is where growth and possibilities can happen, not shame and fear. "We focus on how to get an idea out of your head to the first round of funding," she said. "So many people don't know how to start."

On the show, they teach the basic "Girl Starter" six steps to success: start it, plan it, prove it, build it, brand it and fund it.

Collins came up with the Girl Starter idea after her 16-year-old daughter Julia attended a panel talking about how risk averse women are compared to men. Many of the panelists were talking about women in their 30s, 40s and 50s. To her daughter, this was too late. Why not build risk tolerance earlier?

So Collins, her daughter, her husband Chris and Broadway entrepreneur Dani Davis created Girl Starter, refining the concept over two years and ultimately selling the TV show to TLC. Interestingly, the word "entrepreneurship"  didn't sit well with a lot of the focus group women. "It felt too complicated and difficult to spell," she said. So they came up with the phrase "girl starter."

Collins understands that "girl" could be considered a patronizing term out of a male's mouth, but "we want to change the definition to be more about 'girl power.' There has always been a 'boy's club.' Why not a 'girl's club'? It's something strong and fun. Even women of my generation use the world girl quite often. It stands for empowerment."

Olli, the 21-year-old local contestant who was born in Lawrenceville but lives in Buford, said she was having trouble breaking into the film-making world here in Atlanta. She didn't have the connections to even get a low-level production assistant's job. Then she found the Facebook pitch for this particular show. "I don't know a ton about business but I had an idea to create an actual business in my mind, a men's fashion subscription box. It's like Trunk Club but more personality based."

She is a high-school drop-out who said bullies forced her out. She wore her hair short, never felt like she fit in. "People think I'm weird," she said. "I've had to learn to love and accept my weirdness."

"It's her strength and starter spirit that drew us," Collins said. "She talked about not feeling sorry for herself, how here experiences made her stronger."

Olli said she considers herself an introvert. On the initial episode, she said collaboration was not her strength. But she found the other contestants considerate and supportive, not backbiting and vindictive.  If she had them in her high school, she would not have dropped out. "The house environment was great," she said. "We competed during the day but when we got home, it was like family. We ate dinner, went out and explored the city together. It was fantastic."

"The drama of the show came from building the businesses," Collins said. "It didn't come from women tearing each other down. I couldn't be more proud of the girls."

One of the girls who didn't win immediately asked for a raise at her job after the competition ended, Collins said.

The show has several sponsors including Staples, Visa and Microsoft, companies who helped design the challenges, similar to "The Apprentice" model.


"Girl Starter," 7 p.m. Fridays, TLC


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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.