UPFRONT: Connections – Caffeinated collaborations

1 Million Cups events give entrepreneurs a chance to connect and grow

Posted on Dec 1, 2015 :: Connections
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

IOBCoffeeCups_004Success and inspiration sometimes require a little jolt.

Whether it’s from a well-crafted question that exposes a potential pitfall in the business plan, or a handshake that connects an entrepreneur with a new mentor, or perhaps just a shot of caffeine from a hot cup of coffee that clears the head, those little jolts can help turn a good idea into a growing business.

Providing an opportunity for that jolt is the idea behind 1 Million Cups, a weekly, nationwide networking event hosted in the Fox Cities by the Venture Center at Fox Valley Technical College.

“The purpose is really to get folks together and establish a crowdsourcing solution for young companies and startups,” says Amy Pietsch, director of the Venture Center. “There are a lot of things we can do to spark those entrepreneurs.”

The data says they can use the help.

With FVTC hosting a 1 Million Cups event each Wednesday, Appleton has joined 77 communities across the nation taking part in the program, which was launched by the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation to engage and connect entrepreneurs.

Inspiration came from the foundation’s research into entrepreneurism and startup activity, which had been in a five-year decline until this past year. For example, federal data show that in 2014, more businesses closed in the United States, 470,000, than new businesses were created, 440,000.

Kauffman’s research, published as the Kauffman Index, shows the decline in startup activity began in 2010 in the midst of the Great Recession and hit its low point in 2014. The 2015 report shows the single largest year-over-year increase in the past two decades.

Wisconsin was one of 18 states that did not see an increase for startup activity and entrepreneurship. The percentage of the adult population in Wisconsin engaged as entrepreneurs has been steadily declining since 2007, with 17 out of every 10,000 adults becoming an entrepreneur in any given month.

Princeton Audio founder Michael Pelland, a presenter at the first 1 Million Cups event in Appleton, says the explanation is no great mystery.

“The investment community in Wisconsin is still pretty weak,” Pelland says. “It’s a challenge to access the capital you need to build and grow.”

Despite that challenge, Pelland’s presentation was upbeat and focused on the success the company has had since launching in Princeton in 2014.

“I’m living the dream,” Pelland says.

The format for 1 Million Cups is simple. At 9 a.m., the presenting speaker is introduced and launches into an explanation of their company, how it started and the business plan. Once the presentation is finished, the floor is open to questions. An informal networking session follows. 

In addition to Princeton Audio, Shop Local LLC, TC Dance Club and Jake’s Diapers have taken the podium and explained their business approach before taking comments and questions from the group.

And that could provide just the boost both the businesses and the community need, says Mark Burwell, national director of Entrepreneur Hub and a mentor at FVTC’s Venture Center.

“One of the great benefits to this is that we are getting people together and getting them engaged,” he says.

1 Million Cups – Appleton

»  9 a.m., Wednesdays

»  Fox Valley Technical College Venture Center

»  5 N. Systems Drive, Appleton

»  www.1millioncups.com/appleton