Caffeinate Your Startup Community with 1 Million Cups

Caffeinate Your Startup Community with 1 Million Cups

Cities nationwide are buzzing to caffeinate and connect with entrepreneurs through 1 Million Cups.

There is a good reason why.

A 2010 Kauffman Foundation report found, “Without startups, there would be no net job growth in the U.S. economy. This fact is true on average, but also is true for all but seven years for which the United States has data going back to 1977.”

Creating a Buzz for Startups

The concept is simple. Every Wednesday at 9:00 a.m., in community centers, universities and coffee shops around the country, two entrepreneurs give six minute presentations about their startups to an audience of mentors, advisors and entrepreneurs. Then, they participate in a 20 minute Q&A with real-time feedback. At the end of each presentation, organizers ask the final and classic 1 Million Cups question: “How can the community help you?”

Each week’s entrepreneurs walk away with new ideas to advance their businesses, and audience members learn more about the startups in their communities. Conversations are started, help is offered. Coffee keeps flowing and the benefits multiply.

Brewing the First Cups

After Google Fiber announced their first roll out would be in Kansas City, excitement grew around the idea of building a vibrant entrepreneurial community here.

Nate Olson, a specialist in entrepreneurship at the Kauffman Foundation and Cameron Cushman, who was a manager in entrepreneurship at the foundation, found the startup community was fragmented and disconnected. The two co-founded 1 Million Cups with the idea of bringing together local entrepreneurs to learn from one another over a cup of coffee, the first meeting was held in April 2012.

The effort snowballed. Presenters returned to “pay it forward,” along with other entrepreneurs, investors, civic leaders, marketing consultants and mentors.

Raising Cups around the U.S.SourceLink Network

Although U.S.SourceLink affiliates refer clients to 1 Million Cups as resource partners, two serve as organizers. Here’s what Peter French, president of Café CommerceSA in San Antonio, Texas and co-founder of 1 Million Cups SAT and Rob Williams program manager at IASourceLink in Cedar Falls, Iowa and co-founder of 1 Million Cups in Cedar Valley have to say about the impact of 1 Million Cups in their communities.

San Antonio | Café Commerce:

“1 Million Cups is the greatest engagement tool we’ve found for startup entrepreneurs. It’s also a remarkable confidence booster for the presenters. People are amazed,” says French.

He often refers Café CommerceSA clients to present at 1 Million Cups as a starting point in their business. “Entrepreneurs find the program appealing because it is an accessible, low risk way to get real-time feedback on an idea or business problem. Plus, the short presentation time forces entrepreneurs to focus on key ideas, a must for startup entrepreneurs.”

Since starting 1 Million Cups at the Café Commerce facility in San Antonio Central Library last July, attendance has averaged 35-40 people with a high of about 65. French says 1 Million Cups draws approximately 50-75% first time attendees each week. With the popularity of 1 Million Cups SAT, San Antonio launched 1 Million Pints, a similar program held on Tuesday evenings.

Cedar Valley, Iowa | IA SourceLink

The founders of Cedar Valley 1 Million Cups, launched last November during Global Entrepreneurship Week, hope to connect innovators to each other and to entrepreneurship networking events in the region.

Williams recommends forming a 1 Million Cups planning committee at the onset. Committee members in Cedar Valley, a multi-county economic region, included Main Street directors, Greater Cedar Valley Alliance and Chamber, private developers and a variety of entrepreneurs. “Those with a vested interest will bring entrepreneurs to the table,” says Williams.

To encourage networking, a “Pre-Cups” session is scheduled from 8:30-9 a.m. The chapter live streams each event to reach a broader audience and sidestep rough winter weather. Williams likes the local flair of each 1 Million Cups and recommends customizing events to make it work for each community.

Start 1 Million Cups in Your Community

1 Million Cups is free and open to the public. Events are managed by a dedicated group of startup community organizers who volunteer their time to coordinate and promote 1 Million Cups every week. Organizers receive coaching from 1 Million Cups staff and join a nationwide network of startup community leaders.

To start 1 Million Cups in your community go to

Photo credit: The Kauffman Foundation

Content contributed by Pola Firestone, with U.S.SourceLink, America’s largest resource network for entrepreneurs.

Share this post