By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News
1 Million Cups San Antonio, which launches Wednesday at 9 a.m. at Café Commerce at the main library in downtown San Antonio. It’s a weekly entrepreneurial educational program, which features two startups sharing a short presentation on their businesses followed by a question and answer session with the audience and lots of coffee.
“The idea is about building the community,” said Peter French, president of Café Commerce. The program is industry agnostic so an entrepreneur from any kind of business can participate, he said. The organizers include French, founder of FreeFlow Research, Celina Pena, chief program officer for Accion Texas and Zac Harris, co-founder of Monk’s Toolbox.
To start off, Michael Girdley, founder of Codeup, will pitch his Geekdom-based startup, which teaches nonprogrammers how to code. French is also pitching Café Commerce, which just opened last week as a resource center for entrepreneurs.
The two-year-old 1 Million Cups program started in Kansas City by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to get to know its entrepreneurial community, said Taylor Brown, program coordinator.
The idea for the program came from an article written by Chicago entrepreneur Seth Kravitz in which he advocated sharing one million cups of coffee to foster a startup community, Brown said.
The idea is that if entrepreneurs met and had a million cups of coffee they could foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem and great things would result from the connections made, French said.
“It’s not your typical pitch asking for money,” Brown said. “It’s really talking about what you do and your story. Where you are at today and where you hope to be in the future. What problems you are facing. It’s a vulnerable environment.”
Kauffman Foundation held the first event in 2012 with 12 people. The program caught on and regularly draws 50 or more people each week. But it’s also expanded to other cities. The Kauffman Foundation didn’t intend to put a model behind the program and scale it, Brown said. It just happened organically.
On Wednesday, two more cities will join the program: San Antonio and Boulder, bringing the total number of cities with 1 Million Cups programs to 44, Brown said. In Texas, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston all have programs.
“We’re just really excited to launch in San Antonio and really glad to add a fourth location in Texas,” Brown said. “We think it’s going to serve a pretty good need there.”
So far, 1 Million Cups has reached around 2,700 startups and every week roughly 74 startups present in all 1 Million Cup Locations nationwide, Brown said.
“What makes this program work so well is that it’s weekly,” Brown said. “It’s kind of like your entrepreneurial church.”
The program provides rejuvenation right in the middle of the week when startups might need it the most, Brown said.
“The intent is that whoever comes – whatever reason they come – the intent is that they’ll be educated and meet someone new that day.” Brown said. “And also, potentially, be inspired.”
Every week about 2,300 people attend a 1 Million Cups event.
A startup that made a vegan energy bar presented at Kansas City and then presented, through the 1 Million Cups Passport program, in Denver. They found partnerships with Whole Foods and other stores in Denver and ended up moving their business there, Brown said.
“A lot of times startups will meet an investor in the audience or meet a co-founder,” Brown said. “There’s been instances where people have started a business because of 1 Million Cups.”