Sunday, June 24, 2018
Opinion

1 Million Cups brews creative ideas for St. Pete startups

An exciting movement has been gaining traction in the shadows of City Hall.

Each week 1 Million Cups St. Petersburg hosts a standing-room-only crowd where some of the most innovative thinkers in the Sunshine City gather to pitch ideas and engage new businesses.

So what is the goal of the group?

"We help grow entrepreneurs and startups in the community," said Danielle Weitlauf, manager at the Tampa Bay Innovation Center.

1 Million Cups promotes economic ventures over coffee.

The java starts flowing Wednesday mornings at 8:30 in the Greenhouse, the former Business Assistance Center, which is a stone's throw from City Hall.

Similar weekly meetings are held in 20 cities across the country.

Orlando and St. Petersburg have the only groups in Florida. Other cities are Chapel Hill, N.C.; Dallas; Denver; San Diego; Reno, Nev.; and Tulsa, Okla.

1 Million Cups got its start in April 2012 in Kansas City, Mo., where the founding organization, Kauffman Laboratories for Enterprise Creation, has its headquarters.

Run by local entrepreneurs, the program is consistent in each city.

Here's how it works. Each Wednesday at 9 a.m., two early-stage startups present their companies to an audience of mentors, advisers and other businesspeople. Each founder presents for six minutes, then fields questions for 20 minutes. The program leaders serve as community organizers.

"It's such a nice way for the community to get behind the startups and be a part of that growth," Weitlauf said.

It was Weitlauf and Richard Wood, chief operating officer at Eagle Datagistics in St. Petersburg, who helped launch 1 Million Cups St. Petersburg.

"I attended one in Kansas City back in April and it was so inspiring," Weitlauf said.

By June, Weitlauf, Wood and other like-minded innovators had started conversations about bringing the group to St. Pete. By Oct. 9, it was officially launched.

"I see it getting bigger, both with presenters and the audience," she said. "We've only had eight meetings and have already heard about deals coming together."

The vision for the group goes beyond the Greenhouse.

"Economically, we hope it brings jobs and inspires others interested in starting businesses," Weitlauf said.

"Downtown St. Pete is perfect for 1 Million Cups because it's made up of lots of local shops and small businesses,'' she said.

Last week's presenters were Doug Smith, co-founder of BumperCrop, and Todd Goldberg, co-founder of EXMO.

BumperCrop seeks to connect gardeners to neighbors to buy, sell and trade homegrown food in their communities.

EXMO, which I wrote about in early November, is a platform that helps convention and workshop organizers plan an interactive experience with attendees that goes beyond a traditional printed program.

Just as interesting as the presentations were the questions, feedback and possible partnerships that are formed during each event.

Favorite question this week: "How do you make money on this?"

"Exactly!" was the presenter's response.

That is the point. An organization that draws upon the knowledge of the city's best innovators — be it sharing ideas or offering advice or encouragement — can only help the city become a hub where entrepreneurs thrive.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8874. Follow her @StPeteSandi on Twitter.

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