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Anthony Walker Jr. participates in Small Business Impact Showcase in partnership with JumpStart

Walker, who owns his own business, was a judge in the pitch competition for small business owners in the Cleveland area


Anthony Walker Jr. knows how much dedication is required to operate a successful business.

Yes, Walker is a linebacker for the Browns, but he's also an owner of the HOTWORX Fitness Studio in South Florida. Walker became an owner of the franchise in 2022 after realizing the great benefits it offers after his dad used the gym, which specializes in infrared heat absorption, to recover from open-heart surgery.

Now Walker helps run the business, and it's a grind he appreciates just as much as his NFL career.

"Yeah, it's hard, but how it works is very near and dear to my heart," he said. "My dad is fully healthy now, and how (the gym) works has done great things, so I was happy to be able to join that family."

Walker helped other local business owners around Cleveland take a big step toward elevating their business Wednesday by serving as a judge during a Small Business Impact Program Showcase.

The program, which was formatted similarly to ABC's "Shark Tank" show, featured seven small business owners from Northeast Ohio who participated in a 12-week small business accelerator with JumpStart and presented a business pitch to judges to win $10,000. All participants received $2,500 to help their businesses grow. The Browns hosted the event at the KeyBank Club at Cleveland Browns Stadium as part of their second year of their partnership with JumpStart following a successful first year where entrepreneurs that participated in cohorts saw revenues grow by an average of 20 percent in their business.

Walker served as a judge for the pitches and asked questions for each business owner and decided which owner deserved the prize.

"I think I was more nervous than everyone that presented," he said with a smile. "It's another opportunity to be a part of the community, and being here, I can learn something myself. I have my own business where it could possibly help me, and to have this opportunity is very unique. I always loved watching 'Shark Tank,' so this is a great opportunity for (the business owners)."

Jeffrey Jones, the owner of It’s a Wrap, won the prize, although Jones believes the prize comes secondary to the valuable lessons he learned about operating a business during his preparation for the pitch.

"It's about the information, the resources and the connections I was able to come away with," Jones said. "I wouldn't have this outlet (with the Browns) or been noticed if it wasn't for this. This gave me a chance to highlight and showcase who I am and let Cleveland know I'm here, so that way I can yield a different type of clientele and gain exposure. This is a game-changer."

For Jones, looking up from the stage and seeing Walker as one of the judges served more as a motivator to be great than a generator of nerves.

"He had me locked in," Jones said. "I pulled in my inner Cleveland Browns player, and it just transfixed me on my competitive side. I was like, 'Oh heck no, I'm not going to lose this.' I just felt like I really needed to take advantage of that opportunity."

Walker believes everyone who made a pitch did that — and as a business-owner himself, he knows how much effort each of them needed to make to have an opportunity to present their business plan.

"We always talk about helping the community and making an impact, and this is a huge way to do that," Walker said. "Entrepreneurship is becoming a huge thing in our world, and to see these owners put in all the hard work to get this going, it made me excited to be here."

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