1 Million Cups 2.0: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Headed

I recently had the chance to sit down with Taylor Brown, the Senior Program Coordinator of 1 Million Cups at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, to learn about the history and growth of the 1 Million Cups Program. 

The purpose of the interview was to learn how this educational program—now held in 69 cities—started and how it has evolved over time. Over the coming months I will be highlighting 1 Million Cups cities across America to learn how their 1MC operates, and provides support for entrepreneurs and their respective startup communities. 

But first, this post will put some perspective on the 1MC program through an interview with Taylor Brown.

1 million cups kansas city

For those who are not as familiar with 1MC:

“1 Million Cups is a free, weekly program to educate, engage, and connect local entrepreneurs. Developed by the Kauffman Foundation, 1 Million Cups was founded on the notion that entrepreneurs network and discover solutions over a million cups of coffee. Each week at 9a.m. on Wednesday, the 1MC program offers two local entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their startups to a diverse audience of mentors, advisors, and entrepreneurs. Presenters prepare a six minute educational presentation and engage in 20 minutes of feedback and questioning after they present.” –From the 1MC website

The beginning of 1 Million Cups

1MC launched on April 11 2012 and “had 12 attendees, who consisted of a few entrepreneurs and primarily Kauffman associates,” says Taylor Brown. Having started less than three years ago, it’s impressive that the 1MC program is now in 69 cities and attended by hundreds of people each week.

The program was started by members of the entrepreneurship team at Kauffman because they felt that they didn’t know their own backyard of entrepreneurs in the Kansas City area. The team felt that it was important to understand these entrepreneurs. “Therefore, they went out into the community to get to know these entrepreneurs better. While interacting with the community, they noticed that entrepreneurs were grabbing beers and socializing with each other, but weren’t really talking about their startups in great depth,” noted Taylor, on the origins of 1MC.

After noticing this gap, members of the entrepreneurship team at Kauffman decided to create a safe and open space for entrepreneurs to talk about what they were working on. At the beginning, the goal was to learn more about entrepreneurs in Kansas City and give them a space to meet – there were no plans to scale the program. Little did they know, this program would be in 69 cities within three years.

So, why did this program take off and scale into 69 other cities?  Next we’ll take a look at what value 1MC creates for the presenting entrepreneurs, the community organizers and the surrounding community.

Why entrepreneurs present at 1 Million Cups

Entrepreneurs primarily work on how to tell the story of their company. They are required to watch three videos from the Kauffman Founders School “Powerful Presentation” series and work with the community organizers to condense their presentation into six minutes. A strong and confident presentation is incredibly valuable for entrepreneurs when speaking with a diverse audience of potential investors, partners and customers.

The 1 Million Cups final question asked of every presenting entrepreneur is, “What can the [name of local city] community do for you?” This segues beautifully into the audience directly talking with the entrepreneurs about their biggest obstacles and ways that they can help. The value for presenting entrepreneurs is twofold; one is from the education and practice of telling their story, and the second is the connection and exposure to community resources.

The role of entrepreneurial community organizers

As Brad Feld repeats in Startup Communities, “The most critical principle of a startup community is that entrepreneurs must lead it.” The entrepreneurship team at Kauffman realized this to be true for 1MC and asked local entrepreneurs to become the community organizers just a couple months after the program started. Taylor agrees wholeheartedly, noting that, “the community organizers are the life blood of the program. They are great at attracting the right startups and entrepreneurs as presenters. It’s less intimidating when the organizers and presenters are on the same level. This provides more value and support for the entrepreneurs.”

The organizers provide the crucial ability to be able to properly screen, select and assist presenting companies. The busy entrepreneurial community organizers are spending between 3 and 10 hours a week on 1MC. The community organizers are the backbone of 1MC. According to Taylor, “1MC wouldn’t have the success or sustainability, if the program wasn’t run by entrepreneurs.”  

The value 1 Million Cups to the community

1MC is a great entry point for anyone who is interested in entrepreneurship to meet and learn from fellow entrepreneurs. Taylor finds it very important that 1MC reoccurs every week and noted that it’s been dubbed by some as an “entrepreneurial church” where one can get the same rejuvenating inspiration every week—even if you miss one week, it’ll be there the next one. The timing of 1MC, from 9 to 10a.m. every Wednesday, is also important, as there are rarely any other events happening at this time. While it can be difficult for some to attend because of work and meetings, this uncommon time slot caters to entrepreneurs who have more control of their schedule.

Many entrepreneurship organizations and programs cater to specific types of entrepreneurs. One of the aspects that Taylor was very proud of 1MC for was its inclusivity. As Taylor puts it, “anybody from any background can feel comfortable in this space – no matter one’s gender, age, industry expertise, etc. It’s typical to see everybody from babies to biotech entrepreneurs at 1MC.” This diversity is rare to find for startup organizations and events, which for better or worse, typically attract specific types of entrepreneurs.

The evolution of 1 Million Cups

1MC has changed and grown a lot over the last three years and is now being offered in 69 cities. To gain a better perspective on how the program has grown and changed over the years, I asked Taylor to give me a run-down of the 1MC history and the focus of the program each year.

2012: Experimenting

  • First launch was on April 11, 2012
  • First city out of Kansas City was Des Moines, Iowa
  • End of 2012: 2 cities

2013: Building the tools

  • First Community Organizers Summit 
  • Found a way to thank all of the volunteers for their work
  • Shared best case practices on how to solve the problems in their community
  • Launched the 1MC website and implemented the educational element
  • End of 2013: 21 cities

2014: Scaling the program 

  • Finalized the website and playbook for organizers to support scaling
  • End of 2014: 66 cities

2015: Standardizing quality

  • Working to ensure it’s a good education program that’s helping the community
  • 2 Community Organizer Summits 
  • As of now, Feb. 2015: 69 cities 

Preview of 1 Million Cups 2.0

In keeping with the 2015 goal of improving the quality of the program, there will be a stronger focus on supporting the organizers. This will be accomplished through more site visits by Kauffman associates, contacting organizers more often, and ensuring that organizer succession is happening.

The release of a mobile app and a revamped website will also be instrumental in improving support for the community organizers. Taylor says that, “Even though this is an education program for entrepreneurs, it’s there for the audience as well. The interaction between the audience and entrepreneur is where the value comes from, however, nobody really knows who’s in the audience.”  The mobile app will address this issue by allowing users to create a profile. The app will then geo-map which 1MC you’re attending and show that on the newsfeed, where everyone can see who’s attending and comment. The app will also let the audience interact privately with the presenting company.  The revamped website will work congruently with the mobile app. The website will allow users to follow cities and view past presentations by companies.

Taylor sounded excited about the release of these two new tools, which will allow for better interaction between the audience and entrepreneurs and improve the community organizer experience. The app and website should be released no later than May and will be issuing in “1 Million Cups 2.0” according to Taylor.

If you’re an entrepreneur, a 1MC community organizer, or trying to start a 1MC chapter in your city, stay tuned for further blog posts. Every two weeks, a new post will come out highlighting a different 1MC city and discovering how their 1MC operates and provides support for entrepreneurs and their respective startup communities.

1 Million Cups Cities 

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colin tomkins-bergh

Colin Tomkins-Bergh is a research analyst in Research and Policy for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, working to evaluate the effectiveness of entrepreneurial ecosystems following the Great Recession and performing research around the Ag Tech sector.