The coffee-fueled exchange of ideas at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups program is nothing new in the Kauffman Foundation’s hometown of Kansas City or across the state in St. Louis. But on Wednesday morning, the weekly entrepreneurial event will break new ground in Missouri with its inaugural meeting in Columbia, which starts at 9 at REDI’s Downtown Incubator.
In Columbia, as in the other 11 cities 1 Million Cups (1MC) has spread to since launching in Kansas City in April 2012, two entrepreneurs will present their startups for six minutes and then engage in a 20-minute question-and-answer session with the audience. Afterward, attendees have additional time for networking.
Columbia co-organizer Matt Fischer said he looks forward to seeing 1MC in Columbia bolster the interconnectivity of the city’s startups and entrepreneurs. “I’ve thought we’ve needed a communal event in Columbia for a while, because if you’re not in the incubator downtown, I don’t know about them,” said Fischer, the founder of Sports Formulator, a startup based out of Columbia’s Downtown Incubator that calculates predictions for the outcomes of sporting events. “And it’s not because we don’t have entrepreneurs. People are just working out of their houses.”
With 1MC, Fischer hopes to get people out of their homes and into the same room, networking and brainstorming with other area entrepreneurs about their ideas. “We all face similar challenges; we all have things on our websites that need to be fixed and we need to raise money,” Fischer said. “It’s good to let people know that it’s not just them trying to get something off the ground, that there are other people doing the same thing.”
Pack Matthews, another co-organizer of 1MC Columbia and inventor of the Soul Seat, a yoga-inspired chair that strengthens users’ pelvic and spinal muscles, said that bringing entrepreneurs together at 1MC will expose them to resources they may not encounter otherwise, from the Downtown Incubator space to counsel from more experienced entrepreneurs.
Fischer said Columbia has another major resource in the University of Missouri, with its wealth of students to provide the talent for local startups and funds to back certain ventures.
The Kauffman Foundation’s Nate Olson, the founder and director of 1 Million Cups, said it’s no accident that the event is launching in Columbia on the same day that it’s launching in Lawrence, Kan., the home of the University of Kansas. “They’re both college towns that have a lot of entrepreneurial potential,” Olson said, adding that he sees a lot of opportunity for collaboration between the two cities because of their similarities.
Matthews said bringing 1 Million Cups to Columbia will help the city’s entrepreneurs connect to people in places beyond just Lawrence, helping them tap into a nationwide 1MC network. Matthews himself contacted a startup that presented at 1MC Chapel Hill in North Carolina, and he worked with the company to produce a video for his website. “Having 1 Million Cups will connect us with entrepreneurs all over the country and potentially connect us internationally,” Matthews said.
However, Fischer said the focus is on a smaller scale for the time being. Kansas City’s 1MC meetings grew from around 10 people in April 2012 to more than 300 in recent weeks, and Fischer wants to engage as many people as possible in Columbia. But he says quality interaction is key.
Olson, who has overseen the growth of 1MC from that April 2012 meeting in Kansas City to weekly events in 13 cities with the addition of Columbia and Lawrence, couldn’t agree more. “Things happen when ideas are shared,” Olson said. “And when an idea gets in the hands of the right people who can do something with it, that’s what it’s all about.”