Coffee not only provides us with our morning pick-me-up, it’s also a social lubricant and an important part of many business meetings.
Capitalizing on coffee’s known ability to stimulate creative minds and bring people together, Nate Olson, a specialist in entrepreneurship at Kauffman Laboratories for Enterprise Creation and Cameron Cushman, a manager in entrepreneurship launched 1 Million Cups, a networking and educational program for entrepreneurs.
"Coffee has always had this reputation for innovation and ideas," says Nathan Kurtz, of the Kauffman Foundation, who administers the program. "We wanted to see what would happen if 1 million cups of coffee were shared." 1 Million Cups meetings have been held at cities across the United States since 2012. The program is now offered in 46 cities and growing, with five more cities coming on board this month.
Springfield, Missouri-based granola bar maker Granolove is one of the companies that have been helped by 1 Million Cups. Co-owner Christine Daues was the first to present at Springfield, Missouri’s inaugural meeting last spring. "We were at a crossroads with our company. We’d had three years in business and we had fairly moderate success the first two years but the third year there were a couple of missteps and we were thinking [about whether we were] going to continue to pursue this," says Daues.
Presenting at 1 Million Cups was an opportunity to test the temperature of the business community. "It was a great way for us to see what other people have to say. [As entrepreneurs] we often don’t have a great perspective because we’re so close to it," she says.
Meetings typically have two startup founders who present their business in six minutes to an audience made up of mentors, advisors, entrepreneurs and members of the local business community. The next 20 minutes is open to a question and answer period where the audience can provide feedback and help the entrepreneurs gain sight into possible ways to improve and grow their business. For Daues, this feedback was invaluable. "They opened up a lot of new avenues for us to think about. We were so closed in to what we had in our minds. Having that collaboration of other people who know business was priceless," says Daues. Getting unbiased opinions from individuals in the Springfield business community, potential investors, business mentors, other entrepreneurs, and interested community members provided the push Granolove needed and renewed Daues’s passion for the company.
As a result of presenting at 1 Million Cups, Daues was approached by a couple of potential investors who opened up new avenues for funding. She also connected with a business reporter who wrote an article for the local business journal on her business. The article fell into the hands of the President of Sysco, a large food distributor—who then contacted Granolove and now distributes their products. "I directly attribute that [success] to 1 Million Cups," says Daues, who continues to attend meetings and lends her advice and assistance to other local entrepreneurs.
Kurtz says 1 Million Cups fills a gap that has long existed in the business community. While most startup founders can’t afford to hire expensive consultants, 1 Million Cups allows them to get valuable, neutral feedback about their business from individuals in their own community.
In order to present, startup founders go through Kauffman Founders School: a free, self-paced, online program that teaches skills related to entrepreneurship including presentation skills, something Kurtz says many entrepreneurs struggle with. "We’ve found that better presentation preparation yields better presentations, better engagement with the audience and better Q&As with the audience," he says.
Meetings are held weekly at 1 Million Cups’ 46 locations. While some of the smaller meetings have an average attendance of 20 or 30 members, others such as Fargo and Kansas City have audiences of 300 plus weekly. Imagine attending 52 coffee meetings a year with 300 individuals who could have an impact on your business—that’s 15,600 coffees!
"We’re seeing the fruits of innovation when people get together," says Kurtz, proving that pairing education with networking and, of course, caffeine is a recipe for success.