by Sydne Tursky
1 Million Cups, a nationwide organization with a chapter in Bentonville, is helping Arkansas entrepreneurs make connections and improve their business strategies.
The organization began in Kansas City in 2012 as a project of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The program is designed to empower and educate entrepreneurs through weekly events where new business owners – whether they are still developing their business idea or are a few years into operation – can present their business and receive feedback from established business mentors in the community.
Today, there are almost 180 1 Million Cups chapters across the U.S. Local businessman Jordon White initiated the Bentonville chapter last year with help from Startup Junkie, a consulting firm for small businesses, according to Haley Allgood, executive director of the Startup Junkie Foundation.
At first, the idea seemed a little far-fetched to Allgood.
“We were thinking there might be five people that show up,” Allgood said. “Weekly is a pretty big commitment … We hadn’t started [a chapter] because of that frequency, and we honestly weren’t sure it would work.”
However, the group grew quickly, and now about 40 people attend the event on Wednesdays at 8 a.m. At each meeting, two entrepreneurs present their businesses to the group and talk about what they are working on and how they could use help from the local business community. It is not a sales pitch, just an opportunity to share and get feedback or referrals to other people who might be able to assist them, Allgood said.
For some entrepreneurs, the event’s benefits come mostly in the form of connections. The staff of one Little Rock-based startup made a helpful connection at their first 1 Million Cups event that later led to them presenting at a major conference in New York.
Other businesses simply gain exposure. When Andrew Gibbs-Dabney presented about LIVSN, the company he founded, about 35 people from the event signed up for LIVSN’s e-mail list, which at the time was a huge increase.
“We presented there when we were just a little more than an idea, and it served as a really great way to get feedback from the local entrepreneurial community and to get support via connections,” Gibbs-Dabney said. “We also went back and presented six months later, so very recently, and it was really cool to see some of the people who helped out in the beginning.”
1 Million Cups events also help new entrepreneurs learn how to present their businesses effectively.
“It was the first opportunity that I had to present the business in public,” Gibbs-Dabney said. “After that, I went on a full fundraising tour and pitched, and [1 Million Cups] was basically a space where I got to go up there and do my first presentation of the business and be very concise.”
Since then, LIVSN has grown exponentially, with thousands more on its email list. The sustainable outdoor clothing company will begin its Kickstarter campaign in the next few weeks, Gibbs-Dabney said, and product launch is expected by the end of the year.
The Bentonville chapter of 1 Million Cups just celebrated its one-year anniversary, and five companies presented for a second time to share their growth. Many companies have made great strides thanks to the networking event, but for some it’s just a source of encouragement and direction, and that’s fine with Allgood – she and the rest of the sponsors will be at 409 Southwest A St. each Wednesday at 8 a.m. for as long as the organization keeps benefiting the local business community.