‘This is about disability equality, but it’s actually about people and human stories’

Distributor ITV Studios
Producer Hello Sunshine
Length 5 x 60 minutes
Broadcaster Roku Channel (US)

“As soon as we heard about it, we wanted to get on board because we feel the business space needs refreshing,” says Ella Umansky, vice-president of format acquisitions, global creative and production support at ITV Studios, about female-entrepreneur format Side Hustlers.

Produced by Reese Witherspoon-founded and Candle Media-backed Hello Sunshine, the five-part format follows six entrepreneurs who have 40 days and $15,000 (£12,000) in seed capital to transform their small side business into an investment-worthy primary income driver. They take part in a high-stakes bootcamp, where they are equipped with the tools, resources and expertise they need to quit their jobs and pursue their dreams.

The participants are at various stages in their side hustle: some are early on in setting up their business, while some have already successfully brought their product to market and now need the know-how to make the jump to the next level. They are mentored throughout the process by Emma Grede, chief exec and co-founder of fashion brand Good American, and Ashley Graham, entrepreneur and supermodel.

In a genre dominated by longrunning series Shark Tank (aka Dragons’ Den) and The Apprentice, cutting through is a test. Umansky says Side Hustlers differentiates itself from other business reality competition formats by eschewing weekly elimination in favour of a more holistic approach to finding winners.

There can be more than one winner and, rather than having a prize pot or job offer, the investors decide at the end how much they want to put into each product.

While rejection is a common element to business-centred formats, it has no place in Side Hustlers. Some participants do leave the competition, but do so having gained knowledge, experience and the contacts to continue building their business.

“Quite a lot of the business formats out there are about cutting people down and setting them up for failure, whereas this is a show about women empowering women,” explains Umansky.

“This show is uplifting and trying to get people to where they want to be, rather than just setting them up for the quick payoff of them failing in a business meeting.”

Umansky says Side Hustlers carves out a niche for itself by offering a “new take”.

“Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice are the behemoths and have been in pretty much every territory. But everybody knows those beats and they’re looking for a different kind of rhythm to these shows,” she adds.

“Side Hustlers is authentic and has a lot more reality to it. It’s not about a structured way of arbitrarily getting rid of people, but finding people to go on a journey with and them forming a natural, authentic partnership with their mentors and investors.”

The show has already proved itself with US viewers, becoming Roku’s most requested show since its launch on the digital service in early March. A second series has been greenlit.

While Side Hustlers is a very recent addition to ITVS’s slate, Umansky is encouraged by the reaction to the show since it launched in February. She says: “I’m very much hoping that is going to lead some really good conversations.”