9:00-10:00 a.m. each Wednesday is my favorite hour of the week. Formally, it’s known as 1 Million Cups, a program designed by our friends at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City and operated independently (and in a few differing formats) by volunteers in 30 cities around the country. Informally, I think of it as fellowship time for the startup community.
In Des Moines, we host one Iowa-based startup each week. They tell their story for about 10-15 minutes and then it’s time for open questions and honest feedback from the audience (fellow entrepreneurs, startup enthusiasts and other members of the community who care about their success). After the presentation most of the community sticks around and catches up on what’s been going on with their companies since the last week (you know, like fellowship time after church).
Typically, 1MC in Des Moines averages between 30-40 people each week. Last week we topped 50 for the first time (I think) and that might be due to some recent press coverage:
- New York Times (March 12) - Supporting Start-Ups With Connections, Advice and Caffeine
- Des Moines Register (March 8) - 1 Million Cups offers startups 'invaluable' advice from business experts
Two quick side notes on the DMR story: the headline hit me a bit funny, 1MC is about advice and feedback from the local community not from “business experts”. While the local community may include said business experts, it implies (to me) something else, like a panel of SBA staff or something. Also, this is not a program for “brick-and-mortar stores” (nor can I come up with past examples of them presenting) - that part seems like an error.
Both stories are great exposure for the program (locally and nationally).
Surpassing 50 people is outstanding - it was literally Standing Room Only. Hopefully that number persists because I think its about perfect for Des Moines. If we grew much higher than that we'd need to find a new venue and that would have its own set of problems.
The current venue (Green Grounds Cafe) is suited really well to 1MC. It has great coffee, a room with a stage and the A/V equipment on site and its situated in a part of our community that's not too far west to scare away the Downtown folks and not too far downtown to scare away the West Suburb folks (which probably is tough on anyone in Ankeny, Altoona or somewhere else in the metro).
The other problem with growing much bigger is the potential of losing the intimacy and openness of the event. As it stands currently, anyone with a question or comment gets the opportunity to ask it. And, for the most part, the entrepreneurs give thoughtful and authentic answers. I'm not sure where the tipping point is but I'd hate to grow so big as to lose that dynamic.
Photo Credit: Chris New