Columbia’s version of 1 Million Cups, a weekly event that provides entrepreneurs a platform to present their businesses, to network and to receive constructive feedback from the community, celebrated its fourth birthday on Wednesday.
1 Million Cups, which originated at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City in 2012 and now takes place in more than 100 communities across the country, made its Columbia debut in August 2013.
On Wednesday, entrepreneurs who have presented at the Columbia event over the last four years shared updates on their businesses and testimonials about what 1 Million Cups and the community around it have meant to them.
Those entrepreneurs included Teri Walden, founder of EnCircle Technologies, a Columbia organization that works with adults who are on the autism spectrum to provide training for technology jobs.
“When I came to 1 Million Cups … I just received a lot of support for this audacious idea, and found a lot of teachers,” Walden said.
Michael Urban, who owns Harold’s Doughnuts, said the program helped provide a spark that was necessary to get the word out about his craft doughnut shop when nobody knew what the company was about.
“This group really gave me jump start from 2014,” Urban said.
Lori Smith, co-founder of Sustainable Outdoor Lifestyle, a Columbia company that sells lawn furniture made from recycled materials, said that the support of the 1 Million Cups community has helped as she has faced the hardships of running a business. It’s a sentiment that was shared by many at Wednesday’s event.
“When I need motivation when I need inspiration when I’m, like, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ you guys are here,” Smith said.
Randal Weidenaar, a partner at Notionfront, a Moberly-based digital marketing consultancy, said, “the encouragement you get from being in such a creative body of people” was his main takeaway from 1 Million Cups.
Many entrepreneurs stressed the importance of receiving honest critiques from their contemporaries. Nicole Morris and MacKenzie Bowden, co-owners of the Southern Rose, a Columbia gift boutique, said 1 Million Cups helped them with outreach and provided constructive criticism as their company was just getting started.
A group of select past presenters participated in a question-and-answer session. The panel featured Kelsey Raymond of Influence & Co., a content marketing agency; Clint Matthews of Start Right Foods, which makes high-protein waffles; and Anna Meyer of Range Free, an allergen-free bakery. All three shared stories of their experiences getting young companies off the ground.
Raymond noted that the entrepreneurial community in the city has provided a good environment where “young people want to stay in Columbia after they graduate.”
All three reflected on choices made and lessons learned up to this point.
Meyer said she would have used outsourcing earlier and more often. Raymond said she thought her business could have grown faster if she had brought more confidence to the table when she first started. Matthews said he would have focused less on outsourcing production of his product and improved his home operation instead.