In this 1 Million Cups Series, I will be highlighting 1 Million Cups (1MC) cities across America to learn how their 1MC operates, and provides support for entrepreneurs and their respective startup communities. In this first city spotlight, I find out what’s brewing in Des Moines, Iowa.
I recently had the chance to interview Ben McDougal, a community organizer for 1MC Des Moines. Ben has been an organizer for the past 8 months and has attended 1MC ever since it came to Des Moines in the fall of 2012. 1MC Des Moines averages 40 attendees every Wednesday morning and their largest event had 125 people.
You can find 1 Million Cups Des Moines every Wednesday morning at 8:00am at the Green Grounds Cafe. Ben was very appreciative of the coffee shop letting 1MC use the space and commented that the cozy environment makes everyone feel welcome.
1MC Des Moines does community announcements every Wednesday morning, highlighting all of the entrepreneurship related events in Des Moines. One organization that Ben said constantly has events going on is Gravitate, the “entrepreneurial center of gravity in downtown Des Moines.”
Find out what keeps entrepreneurs caffeinated in Des Moines in the transcript, lightly edited for clarity, of my interview with Ben McDougal:
Why did you become a community organizer of 1 Million Cups Des Moines?
Ben: I initially became involved as a Des Moines Startup Drinks organizer, a social organization for local entrepreneurs, which was developed in 2008. 1MC provided me the opportunity to provide resources to fellow entrepreneurs and continue my own learning. I felt that my skill set of bringing people together, MCing and promoting events were a natural fit to benefit the 1MC community.
What is your favorite part of 1 Million Cups?
Ben: The interactivity that comes about because of the format. At 1MC Des Moines, we have one presenter each week, instead of two. This gives the entrepreneur the value of thousands of dollars of consulting in those 30-45 minutes. The networking aspect is a nice after effect.
What do you think has made your 1MC a success?
Ben: There have been three aspects that have led to the success of 1MC Des Moines. The first, is the consistency of 1MC Des Moines. The program has run every week at 8:00am on Wednesday morning since the fall of 2012. The program is infectious to newcomers. So infectious, that it’s rare for people to only attend once. The second, is the type of presenters. At 1MC Des Moines we try to distinguish between small businesses and startups. We’ve always tried to maintain the focus on startups because we find that entrepreneurs of all backgrounds are inspired and can learn from their stories. The third, is taking in sponsorship dollars not only for coffee, but for activities such as branding and awareness. We have now up to 4 sponsors, who include companies in the real estate and financial sectors.
Are there any aspects that make 1MC Des Moines unique?
Ben: Yes, 1MC Des Moines was the second city to start the 1MC program, after Kansas City. We have run into some of the unique problems that organizations experience during growth, such as, how to protect the organizers from burning out, set up the entity, and accept money. We’ve been able to tackle these problems as we go and look forward to joining a conversation with other organizers at the 1MC summit. Also, the backgrounds of the current community organizers are rather unique: I’m a tech entrepreneur, Matt Mckinney is an attorney, and Don Frazer is a retired banker.
One of the most unique aspects of 1MC Des Moines is that we formed an unincorporated non-profit association to be able to accept financial donations. We have also experimented with different formats such as an open forum for community members to offer suggestions for the 1MC program. We’ve also done 1 minute elevator pitches, where everyone that comes gives their pitch. Having the different formats has been fun and are great to have in case the presenting entrepreneur can’t make it at the last moment.
Check out the first post of the series on the evolution of 1 Million Cups here.
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