Helping aspiring entrepreneurs

Helping aspiring entrepreneurs to see their way forward – by engaging with their community

One Million Cups is a nation-wide programme in the US that could provide a bottom-up infrastructure for supporting startups in the UK, where provision is currently totally inadequate.

As inventions and innovations become more pervasively disruptive, never were there more opportunities for entrepreneurs. While there are many who aspire to that role, the infrastructure for supporting them remains embryonic.

The speed with which the latest co-working space in London has filled up (WeWork at Moorgate) testifies to an unsatisfied need for flexible incubator space; and the minimal amount of incubator spaces in universities falls well short of potential demand.

Despite strong evidence as to its value, the Government has just shut down the Business Growth Service which offered mentoring for hi-growth businesses. Mentorsme, the focal website for mentoring services, has expanded their availability only somewhat; and mentors are currently not only hard to find, but also of uncertain quality. Few incubators provide proactive support for their young businesses, yet that is demonstrably what is needed.

One Million Cups is a movement inspired by the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. It has the merit of providing a seed-bed by connecting startups with local communities: as a filter, for feed-back, for support and for expansion.

In 66 cities throughout the US, once a week one or two aspiring entrepreneurs make a brief presentation about their startup to a diverse audience of peers, mentors, educators and advisers. They have six minutes to tell the audience about their journey so far, and where they have got to, followed by 20 minutes for questions. They then get feed-back from the organizers and via an audience survey. They are expected to prepare for this by following lessons from the Kauffman Foundation Founders School website and video.

This experimental learning opportunity is based on the notion that entrepreneurs discover solutions and network over a million cups of coffee; and that connecting with communities helps that process.

Entrepreneurs gain insight into possible ways they can improve their businesses, gather real-time feedback, connect with a community that cares about their progress, and walk away feeling like they have advanced their business.

The audience in these dynamic and diverse settings also learns a great deal from the presentations and by engaging with the entrepreneurs.

The program takes place every Wednesday morning from 9:00-10:00 a.m. in locations all around the country. Each city runs the program semi-autonomously (events are led by some 300 volunteers), and gathers in coffee shops, co-working spaces, and even TV stations.

The Kauffman Foundation is the largest American foundation dedicated to entrepreneurship – with its programmes of research and development activities. The One Million Cups programme started in Kansas City in 2012 and has spread rapidly. Innovate UK should work with Kauffman and offer to support it in all the Local Enterprise Partnerships.

John Whatmore

February 2016



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