Today's itinerary: Startups 101 from 1 Million Cups; Celebrating startups in health and industry
August 22, 2019
TRIPPIN' ON CAFFEINE
Ideas percolate into 1 Million Cups
At Flyover Future, we want to celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit in the cities between the coasts. Today, we'll talk about an entrepreneurial genius and how he reached out to help others achieve success.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then coffee is surely its lifeblood.
Brainstorming over hot java is nothing new. Millions of ideas have been born during hyper-caffeinated sessions at kitchen tables and coffee shops. But connecting entrepreneurs and the business community in small and midsize cities hasn’t always been easy.
That’s the idea behind 1 Million Cups, a program of the Kansas City, MO-based Kauffman Foundation, which works with entrepreneurs across the country, empowering them with tools and resources, creating an ecosystem of support and feedback that’s galvanized hundreds of fledgling startup communities.
A growing movement
Launched in 2012 in Kansas City, the program has grown to include weekly Wednesday morning events organized in 180 communities in more than 40 states. The events are free—and so is the coffee—the brainchild of Nate Olson and Cameron Cushman, entrepreneurship experts at Kauffman, who created the concept out of, well, necessity.
“We needed a central place to connect,” Cushman told The New York Times. “There were lots of events in Kansas City for entrepreneurs but nothing coordinated, and nothing at Kauffman.”
The meetings are less Shark Tank and more caffeinated classrooms, where mentors help shape presentations and offer advice. Entrepreneurs hone their presentations, engage with local business leaders, and make connections with others who can fill gaps in their ideas or business plans with their own expertise. Investors are welcome, but the nonprofit Kauffman Foundation can’t aid entrepreneurs in raising money.
Led by local organizers schooled by Kauffman’s free online tutorials that teach entrepreneurial skills, meetings follow a standard, hour-long format in every community. At 9 a.m. on Wednesdays, two startups give six-minute pitches followed by 20 minutes of questions. Every event concludes with a question posed to the entrepreneur: “What can we as a community do to help you?”
The Kauffman Foundation, the philanthropic organization behind 1 Million Cups, is part of the legacy of Ewing Marion Kauffman, a legend in Kansas City business and sports circles, who rose from modest means to found Marion Laboratories and the Kansas City Royals baseball franchise.
Kauffman worked as a salesman for Lincoln Laboratories, a pharmaceutical company, where he ended up making more than the company’s president. In response, the company punished him by cutting his sales territory. He vowed to never hinder his own employees’ ability to succeed.
After leaving that job, he started Marion Laboratories with a $5,000 investment. The year before that company merged with company Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in 1989, it had revenues of $930 million. The company sale made more than 300 millionaires.“When Kauffman reflected on his experience and entrepreneurship, he wanted his foundation to empower people,” said Larry Jacob, spokesman for the Kauffman Foundation. “It was his view that anyone with a big idea had a fundamental right to bring it to life.”
(At the end of today's newsletter, we offer some more amazing achievements from Ewing Kauffman.)
START ME UP!
Announcement from the flight deck
Now that we're well caffeinated, we will dedicate the rest of today's newsletter to some inspirational, and potentially applicable, stories about starting a business.
And we begin with the single most important component (next to coffee): Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is ... ahem ... critical
Engineers are known for their bold innovations, such as limiting their diets to flat foods like pizza and Pop Tarts that someone can slide under their doors when they’re coding for 72 hours straight. But innovation is much more than creative ways to not die. Engineers must also take into account the cultural, gender, age, lifestyle and various other ways in which their users might be categorized. That’s the vision of Dr. Kristina Ropella, dean of Marquette University’s Opus College of Engineering. In a recent interview with NPR affiliate WUWM, Ropella discussed the importance of critical thinking to innovation.
Engineers, being human, tend to create and design products for themselves, without always taking into account users who may be very different from them. As engineers design the cars, smartphones, roads, buildings, and other products we use, it’s important for them to take into account the needs of all users. Ropella wants engineers to consider ways to innovate while also being inclusive, including taking into account the “human factors, social factors, cultural factors, and economic factors” that determine whether or not an invention will be successful.
One way for engineers to do that, she explained, is to hang out with people who are different from themselves. When we get out of our comfort zones, we tend to broaden our worldview and see things the way others see them. She also touts the humanities as a great balance for engineering students. Engineers with backgrounds in the liberal arts may be better poised to tackle the future’s problems than their colleagues without those critical-thinking skills. Listen to the interview here.
Growing startups in Bloomington, IN
SproutBox, a venture capital firm for tech startups based in Bloomington, IN, has a well-defined mission and an impressive track record.
Founded in 2008, SproutBox is the brainchild of co-founders Brad Wisler, Mike Trotzke, and Marc Guyer. All of them are experienced in founding and managing tech startups. The rest of the team brings expertise in business management, marketing, design, software engineering, and UI development.
So what exactly is that mission?
The SproutBox website spells it out like this:
1. Eliminate the obstacles that prevent innovative entrepreneurs from turning their ideas into viable businesses.
2. Transform Bloomington into a hotbed of high tech startup activity.
The company’s record thus far suggests that it’s hitting those goals.
And what exactly does SproutBox do?
“Each year, we give four hand-picked startups the team, tools, and resources needed to turn their early stage ideas into a revenue-generating reality.”
The SproutBox team works with those startups—the “sprouts”—to get them up and running (and revenue-producing) in exchange for equity. Among the services SproutBox provides are software development, marketing, mentoring, six months of furnished office space, and business support.
A startup for industrial tech startups
Like a co-working center for startups, West Des Moines, IA-based Maple Ventures provides a variety of services and spaces for industrial technology firms, allowing them to focus on their core missions.
A startup for startups, so to speak, Maple Ventures opened in August 2018, providing administrative, event, training, office, and warehouse space for area startups, according to a recent report on Clay & Milk, a website covering Iowa entrepreneurs.
“The energy and excitement that startups and early-stage companies bring to Maple Ventures and our core business, Ramco Innovations, is electric,” Hank Norem, CEO of Ramco Innovations and founder of Maple Ventures, told the site.
So far, Maple Ventures has provided administrative, office, and warehouse space for such companies as FarrPro, an Iowa City-based agtech startup; HartSmart Products, a 3D-printing firm; and MakuSafe, which produces wearable devices and software to keep industrial workers safe on the job.
While each of the university’s colleges will have dedicated space in the complex, 60% of its 140,000 square feet will be accessible to all students.
According to Jim Oliver, the center’s director, it will offer unprecedented ways to collaborate across disciplines.
The complex contains design studios geared toward both arts and engineering students, planting beds, classrooms, meeting rooms, a metal and woodworking studio, a media production studio, a demonstration kitchen, exhibition halls, and a student-run retail space.
The four pillars guiding the construction and direction of the Student Innovation Center are an interdisciplinary scope, experiential learning, an entrepreneurial mindset, and a global perspective. There are dedicated offices for use by the more than 80 student organizations on campus.
“This is a labor of love for a lot of people on campus. We went out and interviewed all kinds of stakeholders about what this could be, what it should be,” Oliver said. “There’s really nothing like this in the country. It’s a really unique investment in the future of Iowa State."
It’s no doubt that Ewing Kauffman was a genius businessman. But when he wasn’t outselling everyone, starting a foundation and turning a $5,000 startup into a company worth $900 million, he had some other irons in the fire:
In the mid-60s, he established the Kansas City Royals, bringing major league baseball back to Kansas City. He built Royals Stadium in 1973 and it was decades ahead of its time—the only baseball-only facility in the major leagues between 1966 and 1991.
In 1988, he launched Project Choice. To the Westport High School Class of 1992, he promised to fund post-secondary education to all students who stayed in school, did not use drugs, did not become pregnant, and were committed to being an upstanding citizen in the community.
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