1 Million More
Eau Claire chapter of 1 Million Cups continues to grow
When the Eau Claire chapter of the nationwide entrepreneurial promotion program 1 Million Cups began holding weekly meetings about three years ago, attendance was usually around a dozen or two.
The group has gradually grown, and its Wednesday gatherings now typically draw 40 or 50 attendees attracted by the prospect of free coffee and a stimulating presentation from a local entrepreneur. The hour-long meetings are casual yet caffeinated, and are designed to bring together a broad range of people – from students and other newbies to veterans brimming with sage advice – in a collaborative, supportive environment.
Phil Swiler, one of the organizers of the Eau Claire chapter, says 1 Million Cups gatherings are relaxed and inclusive – not the kind of networking events where attendees are confronted with a what-can-you-do-for-me attitude from each other.
“I think one of the big, compelling reasons is intrigue,” Swiler said when asked what draws newcomers to 1 Million Cups. People hear about it, often from social media, he said, and once they come, they usually return another week – often with a friend in tow.
“I think there is a craving for small business to succeed around our community, and this is one of the more consistently valued forums for that,” said Swiler, membership development director of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce.
1 Million Cups was founded in 2012 by the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and in less than a decade has spread to more than 200 cities in 39 states. Locally, the group meets weekly at 9am Wednesdays at CVTC’s Business Education Center, 620 W. Clairemont Ave. (Visitors can park free in the RCU Visitors Lot.) After a holiday break, 1 Million Cups gatherings will resume for the new year on Wednesday, Jan. 22.
Meetings are kept to one hour, and begin with time to socialize followed by a 20-minute presentation. While presenters are typically local entrepreneurs – from boutique owners to software developers to chefs – Swiler said their presentations aren’t sales pitches: Instead, they’re designed to encourage questions and advice from the audience.
“Any entrepreneur with passion who wants to tell their story in an open environment can present,” Swiler said.
Entrepreneurs, he said, are willing to talk about both their successes and failures.
“The more vulnerable you are, the more you’re going to get out of the Q&A and and the community panel,” he added.
In September, Swiler attended a 1 Million Cups conference in Kansas City, where he learned that 1 Million Cups is more than an organization – it’s a movement aimed at empowering the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“The movement piece is about connecting people,” he said. “You never know where your next connection is coming from.”