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.”

Caffeinated classrooms

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?”