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



Mentoring: a shortage of demand and of supply, but not of value!


Mentoring: a shortage of demand and of supply, but not of value!
Mentoring is a fast-growing and vital element of support in the fast-growing entrepreneurial economy (and a major component of all Accelerator programmes.) However, it is hampered by:
• a widespread shortage of mentors,
• the difficulty of identifying hi-growth businesses,
• and a shortage of experience in managing mentoring.

Next week: What it takes to be a good mentee and what makes a successful relationship

In 2011 there were only a couple of dozen mentoring organisations on the Mentorsme website (the single registration body in the field), whereas to-day there are around 125 from which you can find a mentor; and through the Memtorsme initiative there are perhaps around 25,000 mentors (against a target of 45,000 – set maybe arbitrarily once by Vince Cable.)

Tim Rivett of the British Bankers Association, the inspiration behind this growth, says that every organisation in this field reports a shortage of mentors. (The BBA is exploring the role of online mentoring, but mentoring tends to be face-to-face, and thus locally arranged.)

He comments that the identification of hi-growth businesses has been a problem, and that their failure to engage with mentoring is significant, which suggests that it is under-valued.

Organisations like the Business Growth Fund and VCs like Octopus Ventures depend on their representatives to identify and marshal the help their ventures need to facilitate their growth (new markets/exports/new variants etc), as do the many startup programmes their programme managers. If some of our best prospective hi-growth ventures could be expected to be found in Incubators, Science Parks and Innovation Centres, (ie in local clusters), should the management of their mentoring be a priority?

Should the British Venture Capital Association and the UK Business Angels Association be encouraging the growth of mentoring? Is it time that Mentorsme or the Government’s Get Mentoring campaign became more active proponents of this invaluable contribution to our economy?

See also:
Managing support for early-stage ventures – a fast-emerging role
In Silicon Valley support is everywhere, and it is increasingly immanent in London’s entrepreneurial world, with some high profile examples – promoted by a new breed of support managers. But there are other areas where it is still a distant prospect. Join us
in exploring how best to manage support. (