Watch: "1 Million Cups Fargo | 06.19.19" | 47:43

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Any given Wednesday: NFL wide receiver presents at 1 Million Cups
Ellie Booton
Entrepreneurship Intern, Public Affairs Kauffman Foundation

Any given Wednesday: NFL wide receiver presents at 1 Million Cups

To connect with his community, Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver, and nonprofit founder, Adam Thielen did what hundreds of other entrepreneurs do every Wednesday morning – he presented at 1 Million Cups.

How this NFL star plugged into his local entrepreneurial ecosystem. #1MCFargo @athielen19

On a Wednesday morning in Fargo, North Dakota, Adam Thielen admitted that he had never publicly spoken about anything other than football.

And yet, 420 people flooded Fargo’s weekly 1 Million Cups meeting to hear the Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver talk. This time, he spoke about a youth-centered organization that facilitates programs aimed to equip and empower children in North Dakota and Minnesota to reach their full potential in life – the Thielen Foundation.

The draw of an NFL player presenting at 1MC nearly tripled the June 15 gathering of entrepreneurs and entrepreneur supporters. Pushed beyond the venue’s capacity, it was standing room only in addition to the 600 viewers on the community’s Livestream broadcast.

1 Million Cups Fargo, Adam Thielen, NFL wide receiver from Minnesota Vikings

Adam Thielen and Catilin Thielen, co-founders of Thielen Foundation, answer questions during the Q&A portion of the 1 Million Cups program in Fargo, North Dakota.

Lead organizer for 1MC Fargo, Darby Njos, said the room was full of energy. "There were, of course, some of his fans from football, but there were just a lot of people interested in what it took for him to start a foundation," Njos said, "which was really cool."

While the audience turnout was in part due to Thielen’s high profile, it also speaks to the strong entrepreneurial community in Fargo. Njos said that only 50 of those 420 attendees had never been to a 1 Million Cups presentation before, and that, on average, Fargo has 150 people attend their weekly 1 Million Cups meetings.

Thielen’s an NFL player of six years with 326,000 followers on Instagram, and he recently signed a four-year extension with the NFL worth $64 million. And while he’s already landed the foundation seven sponsorships, including Papa Murphy’s, Hormel Foods and State Farm, he still asked Fargo 1MC attendees for funding and support.

One of the Thielen Foundation’s sponsors, Choice Bank, recommended that Thielen and his wife and co-founder, Caitlin Thielen, present at 1 Million Cups.

"With Adam and Caitlin and their foundation being so new, we thought [it was] a great opportunity for the local Fargo community to learn more about the Foundation, and a great opportunity for the Thielen Foundation to generate some more exposure about what they’re doing," said Melissa Block, Choice Bank’s senior vice president of marketing and communications.

Njos agreed that 1 Million Cups would be the best platform for the Thielen Foundation to learn how to best support children and families in the area. "1 Million Cups is built into the community here in Fargo," she said. "It’s this kind of gateway to the entrepreneurship ecosystem here."

Through 1 Million Cups, the Thielens were able to share some of their successes, like their partnership with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Their most recent project, they said, is a partnership with an underserved high school in the Fargo area, where they’ll provide students with on- and-off-the-field support.

They also shared some of their struggles. During the presentation’s Q&A session, one attendee asked how they were measuring success. Caitlin Thielen said that they’re still struggling to measure outcomes effectively.

Like all 1 Million Cups presentations, theirs culminated in the question: "What can we as a community do for you?" The Thielens said they’re looking for buy-in with their mission, for financial support for their bigger projects, and for the community to give their time to disadvantaged kids.

Since their presentation, Sinclair said there’s been a "definite uptick" in the Thielen Foundation social media channels. She’s also received multiple emails from people wanting to collaborate in the future.

"The impact was definitely there, and we got a huge amount of support and buy-in," Sinclair said. "We’re just all so grateful for that whole supportive community."


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