College Town Cups: A Peek Inside 1 Million Cups in Columbia, Missouri

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 city spotlight, I find out what’s brewing in Columbia, Missouri.

I recently sat down with Collin Bunch, lead organizer of 1 Million Cups—Columbia, Missouri, at the bi-annual 1 Million Cups Organizer Summit to learn about the origins and current state of the program in the college town. During our interview, I learned three things about 1MC Columbia:

 

  1. The importance of building awareness about local startups
  2. How to connect to local student entrepreneurs
  3. Insights to the entrepreneur and investor environment in Columbia

1MC Columbia officially launched in August of 2013, but informally started months before with Collin and local entrepreneurs live streaming the Kansas City event to gauge the community’s interest and to start gathering local entrepreneurs.

Fast-forward nearly two years and 1MC Columbia is still going strong with an average of 60 attendees each week. Due to needs of expansion, the program moved to the Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI) in downtown Columbia.

Photo credits to Collin Bunch

Read excerpts from my interview with Collin Bunch to find out what keeps entrepreneurs caffeinated in Columbia.

Based on the transcript of the interview, lightly edited for clarity.

 

Why did you become a 1 Million Cups organizer?

I thought that as a part of building the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Columbia, it was important for startups to have a place for their voice to be heard. Previously, there was no other place like this in Columbia, which I saw as problematic. Building awareness and perspective in a community is vital and it wasn’t being done before.

So, when local entrepreneur, Pack Mathews, and some other entrepreneurs started talking about the program, we knew it was something we wanted to support and see as a foundation of our ecosystem.

 

What have you learned about Columbia’s entrepreneurship environment?

I’ve been surprised by how shy and nervous entrepreneurs can be when it comes time to present. But, once they present, the following experience is like a ride they can’t get off. After an entrepreneur presents, they are part of the 1MC community—with fellow entrepreneurs following up and making sure they progress.

In Columbia it’s about pushing each other to be better and to be vulnerable about their business so they can receive more help. 1MC offers that place for entrepreneurs to tell their story, explain their model and connect to the community.

There are strengths and weaknesses in Columbia’s investment community. There are fewer investors and less capital than larger cities, so we have to focus on creating a sustainable bootstrap model and validate customers early without extra capital to burn. 

I’ve noticed that investors feel much more comfortable when they know what’s actually going on with each company (what’s going well, and what can be improved). If they understand how the business is really doing and how they might be able to fix the weak spots, they are more comfortable to work with them.

No one wants to be tricked, especially if they’re going to make a financial investment in a company. 1MC offers entrepreneurs a chance to be vulnerable to investors in our community, and they appreciate that.

 

What do you think has made 1MC—Columbia a success?

There are two main things: support from other organizations and connecting to the student population.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve collaborated with many local organizations ranging from multiple colleges, banking institutions and governmental programs. To list a few:

  • Regional Economic Development Center
  • Small Business & Technology Development Center
  • Veterans United
  • University of Missouri
  • Columbia College
  • Stevens College
  • Connecting Our Regional Economy
  • Startup Jeff City
  • Fulton Innovation Center
  • Life Science Business Incubator

Inspired by 1 Million Cups, 1 Million Slices was started to better connect with student entrepreneurs. Currently, at 1 Million Slices, one student startup presents alongside another entrepreneur on a monthly basis. There’s lots of untapped potential at the University of Missouri and it’s been great to have more involvement with the student entrepreneurs.

Check back for more insights on upcoming 1MC communities!

Learn more about 1MC - Columbia and join the conversation on Twitter.

Read my previous city spotlights on 1MC - Des Moines1MC - Delaware, 1MC - San Diego and the National Growth of 1MC. See all 1MC-related blog posts here.

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