New Ideas Percolating: 1 Million Cups brings entrepreneurs together over coffee

Tom Giffey

A 1 Million Cups presentation.
A 1 Million Cups presentation.

Sometimes a cup of coffee is more than just a cup of coffee. Just like a humble napkin can hold crumbs and a sketch of a million-dollar idea, a cup of coffee can be a stimulant to both the central nervous system and an entrepreneur’s dreams. Multiply those dreams, add a few zeroes, and you’ve got 1 Million Cups, a free nationwide program “designed to educate, engage, and connect entrepreneurs with their communities.” What began in 2012 in Kansas City has spread to 163 sites around the nation, including – since last spring – Eau Claire. At 9am each Wednesday, entrepreneurs gather at Chippewa Valley Technical College’s Business Education Building, 620 W. Clairemont Ave., for free coffee and inspiration from fellow businesspeople, both aspiring and veteran. We talked to Christina Wasson, marketing manager for the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., about how 1 Million Cups helps budding entrepreneurs.

Wasson
Christina Wasson

Volume One: Could you describe the idea behind 1 Million Cups?

Christina Wasson: 1 Million Cups is based on the concept that the entrepreneurial spirit in communities is cultivated by coming together. Ideas and stories are shared over 1 Million Cups of coffee every Wednesday morning across the nation as chapters of 1 Million Cups come together in their communities to learn from their peers and mentors.

How did 1 Million Cups come to the Chippewa Valley?

Several individuals from the community, including the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation, the UW-Eau Claire Entrepreneurship Program, and local entrepreneurs came together to bring this national program to Eau Claire. Our first meeting was April 9 at the Local Lounge. … We have been at CVTC since October.

What kind of entrepreneurs are drawn to these events? Are these all first-time entrepreneurs, or are experienced businesspeople involved too, too?

One of the great things about our community is the support that both current business owners and established entrepreneurs as well as the emerging entrepreneurs and startups provide for one another. All types of entrepreneurs are represented and attend our weekly meetings!

Do you see the same people repeatedly?

We do tend to have repeat individuals who attend nearly every week, but there is also a huge segment of individuals who come when they can – whether that is every other week or once a month. While each week is a different story, a different startup, and a different discussion – there is always another opportunity next week to re-connect with everyone.

What is the usual agenda for a 1 Million Cups gathering?

We start off the gathering by reminding everyone to refill their coffee mugs and showing a short, informational video about 1 Million Cups. Then we dive right into a presentation from an entrepreneur. This short presentation is then followed by lengthy, and informal, Q&A session that revolves around questions about the business as well as the question “How can we as a community help you?” This discussion is often peppered with individuals sharing their personal stories and how they overcame certain obstacles, and how they were able to achieve success. We end each meeting with a trivia question – the prize is one of our 1 Million Cups mugs!

Can you describe the environment at one of the meetings?

1 Million Cups is a fun and engaging event to learn more about entrepreneurism and our community. By the time you leave a meeting, you feel much more connected to the community as a whole.

Have there been successful business launches associated with 1 Million Cups locally?

As a community we are fortunate enough to have several entrepreneurial outlets such as Startup 48, Idea Challenge, and the UW-Eau Claire Entrepreneurship Program that assist individuals in becoming entrepreneurs. We have had several presentations from businesses that are moving forward into the marketplace such as the Three Foodies LLC, who won the most recent Idea Challenge and will be bringing a local food tour to Eau Claire this summer!

What does the coming year hold for 1 Million Cups?

The organizers of 1 Million Cups are looking forward to increasing our attendance and seeing what new presentations we will be able to see. In the future, we hope to have the ability to stream our weekly presentations and maybe throw in a social here and there for additional networking. As always, we encourage everyone to attend 1 Million Cups – you don’t need to currently be an entrepreneur or business owner to attend. The community feedback and discussion is so rewarding for everyone there! … If you have a business we would love to have you present! The environment is very low-stress, and everyone is always excited to hear about what is going on in our community.

Learn more about 1 Million Cups at 1millioncups.com/eauclaire. You can also search for @1millionCupsEAU on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Chippewa Valley Start-Up is sponsored by:

Royal Credit Union
200 Riverfront Terrace
Eau Claire, WI