Tag: Peter French

Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups Launches at Cafe Commerce in San Antonio

Founder of Silicon Hills News

Peter French, president of Cafe Commerce, is one of the organizers behind 1 Million Cups San Antonio

Peter French, president of Cafe Commerce, is one of the organizers behind 1 Million Cups San Antonio

Where can an entrepreneur go to get feedback about their business and to solve problems?

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.”

The Hard Truth About Entrepreneurship

Founder of Silicon Hills News

Photo courtesy of Gary Schoeniger

Photo courtesy of Gary Schoeniger

Entrepreneurship can empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Yet a huge disconnect exists between what is being taught about entrepreneurship and what they are really doing, said Gary Schoeniger, co-founder and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative.

And the myths lead people to the wrong conclusions, he said.

In fact, the typical Inc. 500 startup has no new technology or Intellectual Property and the entrepreneurs are not writing business plans, Schoeniger said.

“They have little or no formal planning,” he said. “Their market research is ad hoc instead of in depth, the median startup capital is about $10,000 coming from credit cards, second mortgages, friends, fools and family.”

And 40 percent have no experience in their chosen field, he said.

Schoeniger could not find a curriculum to explain how entrepreneurs actually operate so he created the Ice House Program. It is based on the book “Who Owns the Ice House” with interviews of more than 300 successful entrepreneurs. He wrote the book with Clifton L. Taulbert, one of the inventors of the Stairmaster. The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program is designed to teach the entrepreneurial mindset.

Peter French, president of Cafe Commerce, brought Schoeniger to San Antonio to teach the program to San Antonio entrepreneurs.

IMG_3437Schoeniger spoke for two hours Monday night to a group from Café Commerce in San Antonio about the Ice House Program, funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City.

During his talk, Schoeniger dispelled some Silicon Valley stories about entrepreneurs getting rich quick and coming up with earth-shattering innovations. He thinks those stories give people the wrong impression about what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. His goal is make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone.

The need for entrepreneurship is huge, Schoeniger said. Studies show that 70 percent of all American workers are not engaged in their work, he said.

“Five us are flapping our paddles in the water and only three of us are pulling the whole boat,” he said.

Jason’s Story

To illustrate how transformative entrepreneurial thinking can be, Schoeniger recounted the story of Jason Campbell. He was a 12-year-old boy in his fourth foster home when Schoeniger met him.

“Jason never knew a father,” he said. “His mom was in prison for the fourth time in his life.”

Schoeniger took Jason in. He went to work on weekends with him at a construction management firm.

At 15, Jason went to live with his mom, but that didn’t last because his mom went back to prison during his junior year.

At the time, Jason had a 1.7 GPA. He dropped out of high school to work at Applebee’s full time. He wanted autonomy.

“I convinced him that movie had already been made and it didn’t end well,” Schoeniger said. “I wasn’t looking to be a hero. I knew the kid. I knew he was bright. I felt like I had no choice but to get custody of him and grab hold.”

Jason enrolled in high school and got a minimum wage job at a construction site. But six weeks into the job, Jason told Schoeniger he hated the job and he wanted to become an entrepreneur.

Schoeniger helped him launch “Jason’s Jobsite Cleanup” with a shop vac, push broom, mop, bucket and some fliers.

Schoeniger told Jason to charge $20 an hour even though Jason normally made $6 an hour.

“That terrified him,” Schoeniger said. It was outside his realm of understanding.

“It’s like I pushed him in the pool,” he said.

Jason spent his first day as an entrepreneur driving around in his 1986 Toyota Corolla looking for a customer. He was afraid to get out of his car. He had a fear of behaving in a way outside of societal norms, Schoeniger said.

When he did approach a group of construction workers, they laughed at him and offered him a job at $8 an hour. Jason said no thanks I own my own business.

“They laughed at him, but he thought that’s survivable,” Schoeniger said.

He kept pitching his service and his pitch got better. He also had to pitch to the decision makers and not the workers. But when he pitched to an owner, the guy turned him down and Jason wanted to lower his price.

“So often when we are behaving in these new ways, we are looking for excuses to go back to the old ways,” Schoeniger said.

The fifth or sixth time he encountered a builder the magic happened, Schoeniger said. The owner gave Jason an address of a house and told him to go there and tell him how much it would cost to clean it.

Jason estimated it would take four hours and offered to do the job for $75. He got the job. It actually took eight hours. But after a few jobs, the man saw Jason was reliable and consistent and he started recommending Jason for other jobs.

Jason hired two of his friends to work for him at $10 an hour. He charged the client $20.

“Which end of that transaction do you want to be on?” Schoeniger asked.

Jason graduated from high school, joined the Marine Corps. Special Forces and served two tours of duty in Iraq. Then he graduated with a B.A. in international relations from San Francisco State University.

Looking back on his experience as an entrepreneur, Jason said the fact that he was reliable was the key to his success. He also saw other people’s problems as opportunities. He would leave the house at 5 a.m. to go clean construction sites before school.

“This was the same job that he hated working for someone else,” Schoeniger said.

The impact of entrepreneurship on Jason was so profound; Schoeniger began teaching a course on entrepreneurship at a local high school. One of his students received a $100,000 contract to clean parking lots.

“I got a call from his father and he asked if there was any way he could take the class,” Schoeniger said.

That’s what led to the creation of the Ice House program, Schoeniger said.

Uncle Cleve is shown on the cover of the Who Owns the Ice House book.

Uncle Cleve is shown on the cover of the Who Owns the Ice House book.

Ice House Owner Uncle Cleve

Schoeniger met his co-author Taulbert in Tulsa. Taulbert, who was born to a teenage mom in the Mississippi Delta and picked cotton as a child, learned to be an entrepreneur from his Uncle Cleve.

Uncle Cleve owned the Ice House. He had four other businesses. He had money in the bank but he still drove an old car and people in the community ridiculed Uncle Cleve because he deviated from societal norms.

“It’s very difficult to make entrepreneurship education formulaic,” Schoeniger said.

That’s why Schoeniger dislikes articles in Inc. Magazine, Forbes that assign attributes to entrepreneurship with titles like “Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?”

“They are assigning the wrong cause to the effect,” Schoeniger said.

People need to stop looking at characteristics and instead create the circumstances that allow entrepreneurs to thrive, Schoeniger said.
Entrepreneurs have to survive in resource-constrained environments and they develop traits to do that really quickly.

“It’s up to each of us as individuals to figure out how to do something useful,” Schoeniger said. “I don’t care if it’s washing windows, curing cancer or making sandwiches.”

Money is a horrible motivator, Schoeniger said.

“Jason hated the job when he was told to do it,” he said. “He was completely immersed in it when he had ownership of it.”

From his research, Schoeniger concluded it’s important for entrepreneurs to hang out with people who are entrepreneurial. They also have to have an entrepreneurial mindset or perspective.

And lastly, the situational facts that will push you down the path are important, Schoeniger said.

“It’s actually an advantage when you have nothing to lose,” he said. “The naiveté works for you.”

That’s because highly uncertain niche opportunities take years of being in the market and just scratching away – that’s how entrepreneurs uncover what’s otherwise undiscoverable, Schoeniger said.

“If you knew how hard it would be you would never get on the path,” he said. “You’re probably better off working for somebody else financially speaking.”

“The Silicon Valley stories pollute our thinking,” he said. “We start to think it should be easy. If I just had the right idea, someone should be throwing money at me.”

In reality, it takes eight years to get to $1 million in revenue.

“It’s not about getting rich quick,” he said.

FreeFlow Research Works to Recruit More Tech Talent to the U.S.

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Photo courtesy of FreeFlow Research

Photo courtesy of FreeFlow Research and Geekdom

A growing skills gap exists in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields for workers in the U.S.

One reason for this is because there is a lack of U.S. born students pursuing STEM degrees. Peter French believes something needs to be done to fill this gap.

French is the founder of a nonprofit organization called FreeFlow Research. FreeFlow is based at Geekdom in San Antonio, the largest co-working space in Texas. The purpose of FreeFlow is to build a strong network of researchers and entrepreneurs who are engaged in basic and/or applied scientific research in areas of cloud computing, software and technology development, mobile applications, clean energy technology, and other STEM-related industries.

FreeFlow, founded in October of 2012, last year merged with the Technology Connexus Association, which formally designated FreeFlow as a 501(c)(3) and exempted it from being federally taxed. That nonprofit designation helps FreeFlow pursue its mission to recruit top international talent to the U.S.

“The secret is out that having the smartest people, no matter where they’re from, is the way that your economy is going to move forward quickly and exponentially,” French said. “The U.S., from a policy standpoint, has just been slow in responding. My original vision in pursuit with FreeFlow is let’s find a tool that doesn’t require changes in the law that we can use right now to help retain smart talent.”

The name for FreeFlow Research clicked when French thought about how ideas, like email, can move freely across borders. Patents and intellectual property can be bought, sold, and moved around the world freely. Individuals who develop those ideas can not move from place to place so easily.

freeflow-square (1)One of the main goals FreeFlow has is to strengthen the relationship between San Antonio and Mexico at the tech sector level. The other goal is to reverse flow. FreeFlow wants to bring Mexican companies and investment into San Antonio to help make them stronger and more robust companies, but also wants to help U.S. companies who want to access the Mexican and Latin American market and get a better cultural understanding of what’s happening down there.

The idea with FreeFlow is to symbolize the freedom of movement of people, as well as ideas, French said.
“People should be able to live wherever they want,” he said. “If we want to have globally competitive companies, we should be able to have a global workforce. It should be an on-demand capability. (FreeFlow) wants to help facilitate that on-demand flow of people.”

In 2000, the U.S. congress passed the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act. Before this passed, there was a sudden deficiency in talented researchers and Ph.D holders at U.S. universities and research organizations. Even federally funded programs like NASA and the Pentagon were lacking the talent they needed. The reason for this is because of the cap on H-1B visas that could be given to foreign individuals. Many of the qualified individuals who could fill positions at these places were foreign-born.

Congress thought they should make an exemption for certain organizations. That exemption is what enables FreeFlow to conduct research partnerships with for-profit entities or even other not-for-profit entities.
The Brooklyn Law School in New York has been a tremendous help and resource for FreeFlow, French said.

“They have people there that have a deep understanding of the legal issues both on the IRS side and on the immigration side, but have the willingness, desire, and drive to understand how to interpret all of these regulations to produce the outcome that we want. We’re continuing to look for people who share our vision and see the value in creating these talent communities.”

Jared Brenner, a second-year law student at Brooklyn Law and student clinician at the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy clinic, said French is what he would call a “social entrepreneur.”

“He’s somebody who’s sensitive to the public interest, but at the same time is not averse to helping companies large and small turn a profit,” Brenner said. “I think it’s becoming increasingly important to find ways for entities to do that to kind of bridge the gap between for-profit and non-profit ventures.”

Brenner said French is an open-minded individual and he’s willing to try new ways to get the tech talent the U.S. needs.

“FreeFlow is really all about protecting the information economy and fostering innovation by allowing companies to use new innovative ways to bring over highly-skilled workers that they need, and to keep students here to develop specialized projects,” Brenner said.

There are a lot of foreign entities out there such as European startups who would love to get an American foothold, but who struggle with visa questions, Brenner said.

“I really think we should be making it as easy as possible for these people to come over here and create,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why they should be stopped by an arbitrary cap on visas for highly-skilled workers. That’s what Peter and I agree on, and that’s why we work well together.”

Luis Martinez, Ph.D, is the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Trinity University in San Antonio. He said there has always been the challenge with regards to international students in STEM, specifically at the graduate level and undergraduate level.

“They come to the United States, get trained in science, technology, or math and then are expected or required to give back,” Martinez said. “The challenge and the difficulty with that is we train these individuals up to be amazing scientists or fantastic engineers and then we ship them back home so they can become direct competitors to the industries we’re trying to grow here in the United States.”

For our country’s economic competitiveness, it’s important that we have a broad pool of talent to be able to further fuel that engine, Martinez said.

“One of the things that makes innovation and entrepreneurship in the United States really fantastic is that you have the opportunity for a diverse pool of talent, experience levels, and knowledge base,” he said. “It’s in that diversity that we will have strength when it comes to developing the next generation of trend-setting, world-changing companies and startups.”

Freeflow has launched an outreach campaign which targets international students enrolled in STEM programs at Texas universities. French and his team is designing a skills and needs assessment tool that will provide individuals with access to immigration and entrepreneurship resources, as well as offer them a chance to explore FreeFlow’s marketplace of opportunities for research projects, internships, apprenticeships and jobs.

FreeFlow has received a grant from the 80/20 Foundation. A big push for 2014 is to pursue other grants and private funding. FreeFlow also welcomes volunteers who want to help the organization. To share a personal immigration story, fill out a fellowship application, donate money, or volunteer visit FreeFlow’s website.

Geekdom is a sponsor of Silicon Hills News

Free Flow Research Focuses on Bringing More Immigrant Workers to the U.S.

Reporter with Silicon Hills News

ff341af7-1b76-42e2-87eb-6ecebf72ca38_540The United States may be the land of opportunity, but opportunity is useless unless there are individuals to take advantage of it. Today our country is currently lacking the scientists, engineers, and tech experts that our high-tech industry needs to be successful. While there are foreign students and tech experts to fill this void, the current U.S. immigration policy limits access to these resources.
Peter French created Free Flow Research to help solve this problem. The goal of the organization is to help immigrant graduates and entrepreneurs in STEM fields come to San Antonio, stay here, and fill gaps in the high tech industry. It will also continue to do research and support immigration reform.
French is pursuing these goals by creating partnerships with the STEM departments in Texas Universities as well as international student associations in order to find these students and give them more options for the future. He is also reaching out to local business like Rackspace and USAA so these students will have an easier path into a high tech job. In addition, Free Flow Research will work to educate employers on the benefits of hiring and sponsoring immigrants — as many are nervous about the legal processes involved.
Free Flow Research does more than just connect students with businesses, however. The organization is currently building a support structure to provide immigrants both funding and legal services if they come to work in San Antonio. By coming to Free Flow Research, foreign students will be able to receive guidance throughout the immigration process and take advantage of the visa options that best suit their situation.
Connect with them at Free Flow Research.
In addition to their other services, Free Flow Research is currently awaiting certification as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. When certified the organization will be able to self-sponsor cap-exempt H-1B visas for qualified workers. Because of their 501(c)(3) status, the organization will not be subject to the visa cap or annual application cycle dates – allowing them to sponsor visas year round. Sponsored immigrants will be able to work for Free Flow Research or will be contracted to work on third party projects.

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