Local grassroots movement offers hub for startups and entrepreneurs at all stages
The coffee shop has long been the scene for meetups and conversation of all kinds — just head to your local joint and you’ll see people sipping on cold brews or lattes and sharing their ideas for the future. No matter how you take your coffee, The Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups chapter in Columbus is hoping local entrepreneurs will grab a cup at one of their Wednesday meetings at Rev1 Ventures, which focuses on helping innovators in the startup community.
“1 Million Cups is built around education and interaction among entrepreneurs as they go through the startup or business process,” said Steve Flaherty, a 1 Million Cups chapter organizer. “Sure, the program is a connection mechanism, but the whole premise is to showcase local ideas and entrepreneurs — everyone from someone who’s just secured their series C funding to someone who is just starting out.”
1 Million Cups has grown substantially since its founding in 2012. Since then, the movement has expanded to almost 200 chapters nationwide and is fueled by over 1,000 volunteer organizers committed to accelerating and uniting entrepreneurs. The important difference in this program? The emphasis on providing access to the tools and resources necessary for startups by utilizing the knowledge of community members to provide feedback and empowerment.
“There are a lot of ways to give out information or to network,” said Flaherty, “but those are from the people who can usually get the microphone at Startup Week, at Ohio State or at different venture presentations around town. This is the platform for the person that is just starting out, who might not be able to get the mic anywhere. For them, early feedback can be critical to help in deciding which direction they’re going.”
This mission has made Flaherty passionate about opening and running the Columbus chapter. Because 1 Million Cups isn’t organized as a “pitch format” platform for investors, chapters are able to emphasize the Q&A section of their events, allowing the presenter to have direct dialogue with the audience members. The questions aren’t limited and can be as honest as the first sip of black coffee.
“People can ask you ‘why is this better than Amazon’s thing,’” laughed Flaherty. “But I believe that the public forum is important, especially at Rev1, which is known as the startup hub of Columbus. They have an active audience of people who want to find out about the latest companies and they have a funnel of companies that can use this spotlight.”
Each chapter of 1 Million Cups is run by local organizers. The Cleveland and Columbus chapters met in October at the national summit, to discuss future collaborations and even the possibility of forming a Cincinnati chapter. For the program, this is exactly the kind of network they hope to foster.
“Everyone talks about unicorns, the company that’s going to get the next billion-dollar valuation,” said Flaherty. “I’m waiting for the day that 1 Million Cups can foster that company’s first presentation ever, the one that opens up a door for them. This is something bigger than itself, and we have the startup culture here in Ohio. Now when you think entrepreneurship, you’ll think of 1 Million Cups.”