By Emily Robbins.
“Let’s meet for coffee.” It’s a common invitation that often leads to the exchange of ideas, mentorship, and career advice. The 1 Million Cups program, launched in 2012 by the Kauffman Foundation, brings that concept to an even larger scale by providing entrepreneurs with a weekly platform to present their business plans and receive immediate feedback and advice from industry experts, venture capitalists and fellow business owners. All of this happens, of course, over dozens and dozens of cups of coffee.
NLC’s Big Ideas for Small Business peer network recently caught up with the Kauffman Foundation and community organizers from the 1 Million Cups programs in Fort Worth, St. Petersburg, and San Antonio. Their advice on how to launch 1 Million Cups in your own city is captured below.
Empower local entrepreneurs to drive the program. Each Wednesday morning, two entrepreneurs have the opportunity to present their business plans during 1 Million Cups. There are a handful of “community organizers” in each city that recruit entrepreneurs and coordinate the presentation schedules. Most often, these organizers are fellow entrepreneurs that are tapped into the city’s existing network of start-ups. Cities should empower these individuals to lead the program and tailor it to their own community’s specific start-up needs.
Provide venue space. The weekly presentations for 1 Million Cups require a large, easily-accessible venue space that is available on a weekly basis. For example, in San Antonio the program operates out of the local library. A support organization for businesses in St. Petersburg called the Greenhouse (which is co-managed by the city and the local chamber of commerce) serves as the meeting spot for 1 Million Cups.
Attend the presentations every week. City officials and staff are encouraged to attend the program each week as a way to network with the entrepreneurial community and learn about new start-up projects. Rick Usher, the Assistant City Manager for Small Business and Entrepreneurship in Kansas City, Mo., is a regular attendee and uses 1 Million Cups as a way to stay connected.
Help with outreach and referrals. The success of the 1 Million Cups programs relies on an active community of entrepreneurs who participate both as presenters and audience members. City leaders can help advertise the weekly program through word of mouth and social media. Also, city departments and resource centers that provide direct business assistance to entrepreneurs can encourage early-stage start-ups to participate in 1 Million Cups as presenters.
Sponsor a coffee provider. In many ways, 1 Million Cups is really about connecting over coffee. Cities can offer to provide the coffee for the weekly meetings, and even better, this coffee can be purchased from a local coffee shop.
Connect with local university programs. Some local universities in San Antonio require their business and entrepreneurship students to attend 1 Million Cups as part of their coursework. This win-win scenario helps students see first-hand what it takes to launch a business, and at the same time, these students may be more likely to stay in the city after graduation after being introduced to the local start-up ecosystem.
For cities interested in launching 1 Million Cups, check out more information from the Kauffman Foundation’s webpage on how to Caffeinate Your Community.