Grab a Cup, Grow an Idea

1 Million Cups meetings designed to inspire entrepreneurs

Tom Giffey

Diane Hoadley
Diane Hoadley

For many of us, coffee is much more than a hot beverage that provides a quick pick-me-up: It’s a caffeinated catalyst for relationships and opportunities. That idea is the nucleus of 1 Million Cups, a nationwide program that’s designed to connect, educate, and inspire entrepreneurs nationwide over a million jolts of java. Each and every Wednesday morning at more than 100 locations nationwide, entrepreneurs gather to network, hear presentations, and receive wisdom and encouragement from their peers.

The initiative, a project of the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, will make its Chippewa Valley debut at 9am Wednesday, April 5, at the Local Lounge, 2106 N. Clairemont Ave., Eau Claire. The conversation and inspiration promises to be invaluable, and but it will all be free – even the coffee – thanks to the sponsorship of The Local Lounge and The French Press.

“It becomes a space for people interested in this to talk, to network, to bounce ideas off of each other,” explains Diane Hoadley, one of the local organizers for 1 Million Cups and the recently retired dean of UW-Eau Claire’s College of Business. The meeting is a place for a wide range of people – successful entrepreneurs, business neophytes, investors, students – to rub shoulders, trade business cards, and swap advice. Above all, organizers say, the weekly meetings will give entrepreneurs a chance to get out of the echo chambers of their own heads.

“It becomes a space for people interested in (entrepreneurship) to talk, to network, to bounce ideas off of each other.” – Diane Hoadley, 1 Million Cups organizer, on the focus of the weekly meetings

The idea for bringing 1 Million Cups to Eau Claire came about two years ago when Ann Rupnow, entrepreneurship and economic development coordinator for the College of Business, visited Fargo, North Dakota, which is well known for its entrepreneurial culture. She was amazed to learn that Fargo’s 1 Million Cups gathering drew between 100 and 300 people each week. “If Fargo can do it,” Rupnow concluded, “we can, too.”

There’s a consistent agenda for each 1 Million Cups meeting: One or two local entrepreneurs – who have registered with the organization and studied how to make an effective presentation – each speak to the group for six minutes, followed by 20 minutes of Q-and-A with the audience.

“It’s not a Shark Tank environment where we’re going to quiz you and make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row,” explains Rupnow. Instead, the experience is about seeing how the community can support an entrepreneur’s endeavor, she says.

Because of its entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur focus, 1 Million Cups avoids a shortcoming of some other entities that exist to support entrepreneurs, namely the fact that they often aren’t staffed by entrepreneurs.

Hoadley and Rupnow are just beginning to promote 1 Million Cups, but so far they’ve been heartened by the responses they’ve received from those who are looking forward to attending. With the April 5 launch date fast approaching, they are encouraging entrepreneurs – no matter the size of their businesses or whether they provide products or services – to apply to make presentations. To do so, visit 1millioncups.com/eauclaire.

And even if you’re not in a position to make a presentation and just want to learn a little more about the Valley’s entrepreneurial culture, 1 Million Cups will be waiting each and every week.

“A free cup of coffee on Wednesday morning,” Rupnow concludes. “What’s bad about that?”

To learn more about the nationwide initiative, visit 1millioncups.com.

Chippewa Valley Start-Up is sponsored by:

Royal Credit Union
200 Riverfront Terrace
Eau Claire, WI