The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that aims to foster economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. Founded by late entrepreneur and philanthropist Ewing Marion Kauffman, the Foundation is based in Kansas City, Mo., and has approximately $2 billion in assets.
Prentiss Earl III is a manager in Entrepreneurship for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where he focuses on Kansas City entrepreneurship and co-leads the foundation’s 1 Million Cups program. “The work of the Kauffman Foundation’s entrepreneurship team is national in scale and global in reach,” Earl says. “Our entrepreneurship strategy supports entrepreneurs in the U.S. by expanding signature education programs, notably Kauffman Founders School, Kauffman FastTrac and 1 Million Cups, and investing in proven education models. We also seek to foster startup communities and develop challenges to spur entrepreneurial activity in select metropolitan areas.”
Opportunist: When was 1 Million Cups launched?
Prentiss Earl III: 1 Million Cups was started at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., to connect what was, at the time, a fragmented startup community. The name came out of one simple question, ‘Could we change the face of our startup community by connecting local entrepreneurs over a million cups of coffee?’
The first 1 Million Cups occurred in Kansas City in April 2012 with about a dozen people in attendance. At the beginning of 2013 it was in two cities, at the beginning of 2014 it was in 23 cities, and by the beginning of 2015 it will have tripled to 66 cities.
Prentiss Earl III: To educate, engage and connect local entrepreneurs on a grassroots level. It is a free, weekly gathering for one hour every Wednesday morning in which one to two early-stage startups present their companies to an audience of mentors, advisers and other entrepreneurs. Each founder presents for six minutes, followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer session with the audience.
The culture surrounding 1 Million Cups is that of a supportive, neutral space welcoming entrepreneurs to be open and honest about their businesses and the challenges they face. As opposed to a traditional ‘pitch’ environment, 1 Million Cups was created to help entrepreneurs learn from shared experiences and find ways that they can support one another as a community.
Opportunist: How do you find qualified mentors, advisors and entrepreneurs to participate?
Prentiss Earl III: 1 Million Cups is free and open to the public. Anyone interested in attending should visit their community’s 1 Million Cups microsite—found by going to www.1MillionCups.com, then ‘Find an Event’ at the top left. Founders who want to present can click on ‘Request to Present’ on their specific city website.
Opportunist: How many cities is the program currently available in?
Prentiss Earl III: At the end of 2014, there are 66 1 Million Cups communities. 1 Million Cups currently is in 35 states and one U.S. territory—from Anchorage, Alaska, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is in six North American time zones and draws an estimated weekly attendance nationwide of more than 2,500 people.
Prentiss Earl III: 1 Million Cups is entirely demand-driven. Interested parties should visit www.1MillionCups.com [and click on Find an Event] to learn how to caffeinate their community.
Opportunist: Do you promote the program primarily through traditional advertising and marketing or through social media?
Prentiss Earl III: 1 Million Cups is run by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. In each 1 Million Cups city, local entrepreneurs fuel the program as community organizers who volunteer their time to recruit a venue and coffee sponsor, vet and select presenters and publicize the event.
Opportunist: Can you share a few success stories with us?
Prentiss Earl III: Ron Ben-Zeev, president and CEO of World Housing Solution, saw a change of status on the LinkedIn profile of a young woman he met through her attendance at 1 Million Cups in Orlando. He reached out and congratulated her and asked her what prompted the change. She said, ‘You and 1MC.’
The short story is as follows: Chasity Williams attended 1 Million Cups for quite a few weeks. Each time she was moved by the passion of the entrepreneurs sharing their stories. Progressively, she realized that her life lacked that passion. She quit her job, applied to run a home for abused and abandoned children in Guatemala, got the job, sold everything and moved.
When Ben-Zeev shared that story at 1 Million Cups, one person in the audience was so moved that he has since created a local board of advisers/support to help raise funds to help that charity in Guatemala.
Scott Meyer, cofounder of 9 Clouds in Brookings, S.D., says 1 Million Cups has inspired attendees to proclaim their city as the creative capital of South Dakota. They went from 20 people in a coffee shop to now more than 100 people in the huge atrium of the South Dakota Children’s Museum. The conversations have sparked fascinating community projects such as plans for a shared commercial kitchen that anyone can use, the launch of Creativity Week when they celebrate all of the events in town and a Spanish-immersion preschool. They now have official greeters at every event, they announce job openings and people looking for jobs in order to help people connect, and use the beginning of 1 Million Cups to share all the events going on in town. It has become the town square of Brookings—a town of 20,000 in the middle of the prairie.
Callie England, founder of Rawxies—a raw, gluten-free, vegan snack food—presented at 1MC-Kansas City, Mo., in February 2013. At the time, she had just moved back to Kansas City from the West Coast and run her first production in Rawxies’ new Kansas City facility. During her presentation, England asked the community for help raising the capital to buy a final piece of badly needed machinery. Post-presentation, she was able to raise the needed capital and purchase the machinery that helped her increase production by 1,000 percent.
But England’s success didn’t stop there. Soon, she was ready to scale to a new market and turned to the 1 Million Cups network for help. With her presentation at 1MC-Denver in September 2013, she became the first participant in the 1 Million Cups Passport Program and is now busy filling orders that came in as a direct result.
Chris Zink is another success story in Kansas City, Mo. Zink, founder and CEO of Autoswaprz, says that since his 1 Million Cups presentation in July 2013, his company has gone from three employees with around 50 dealerships and 14,000 listings to a company of 13 people, 5,000 dealerships and over a million listings. Autoswaprz started its national expansion and now has reps in St. Louis, Oklahoma, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania and California.
Matt Paulson in Sioux Falls, S.D., says the authoring of his book is a direct result of 1 Million Cups. He saw that it was something that was possible after being inspired by two previous 1MC presenters: Andy Traub, who was their very first speaker and is a book-publishing coach utilizing the Internet, and Carla White, who talked about a book she wrote on how to write apps for iPhone.
Andy became Paulson’s book-coach and mentored him through the process. The book Paulson wrote, 40 Rules for Internet Success: Escape the 9 to 5, Do Work You Love, and Build a Profitable Online Business, was published in July 2014.
In Springfield, Mo., Christine Daues and her business partner—both former TV journalists—started Granolove, a honey-roasted, gluten-free granola company with four flavors and a mission to give 10 percent of their profits to Shriners Hospitals for Children, because of the challenges their own daughter faces. They took Granolove from kitchen to market in late 2010, and had booming sales and lots of PR in the first two years. The third year brought growing pains and the crossroads question of ‘Should we hang it up?’ But before they made that decision, they decided to present at 1 Million Cups.
From that presentation came two viable investors and a comprehensive article about Granolove that fell into the hands of the president of Sysco’s Kansas City office. Now Granolove is signed on with Sysco—the world’s largest food distributor—which is taking their sales from moderate to fast track. Daues says that hearing other startup stories at 1 Million Cups helped renew her company’s energy and mission.
4DSales of Tulsa, Okla., spoke at 1 Million Cups-Tulsa as a last-minute fill-in. Immediately following the event, they had five serious relationships that led to new business for them that week. Then, utilizing the 1MC Passport Program—where presenter alumni can go to other 1 Million Cups cities and present—they’ve presented at four other 1 Million Cups cities.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
1 Million Cups - www.1MillionCups.com
Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation - http://www.kauffman.org/
Follow Prentiss Earl III on Twitter: @PrentissEarl03
Follow Kauffman Foundation on Twitter: @KauffmanFDN
Follow 1 Million Cups on Twitter: @1millioncups