From 1 Million Cups to the Shark Tank

by Peter White

What do I know about entrepreneurship?

Up until about two years ago, absolutely nothing.

Two years ago, I stumbled upon the local community of entrepreneurs. Or maybe it was they who stumbled into me.

See, at the time I was curating the space next to Foolish Things Coffee. A couple young entrepreneurs approached me asking to use the space, telling me they’d convinced this national organization to sponsor a local meetup. They were friends, and I wanted to support them, so I said, “Of course!”

Just what is 1 Million Cups? It’s sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation out of Kansas City. Currently there are 74 groups that meet all across the country, all at the same hour each week. One or two entrepreneurs share their company to the community and get feedback. It was sparked by idea: What if a million startups gathered and shared their ideas over cups of coffee? Hence, the name “1 Million Cups.” I’ve heard it called “a support group for entrepreneurs.”

Why do I go to 1 Million Cups? I’m not an entrepreneur. I don’t know how to start a business. And if I did, I don’t know what business that would be.

Here’s the thing: I really love meeting someone who opens up a whole new corner of the universe to me. And more often than not, this happens to me each week at 1 Million Cups.

Here are three reasons I try to make it as often as my schedule allows:

The really interesting people.

Just this week I found myself sitting next to Don, who used to be a farmer, but sold his farm and is in the midst of creating a platform to directly connect farmers and consumers. On the other side of me was Garry, who showed me an app he’s working related to risk management. I had no idea what risk management was. But now there’s an app for that.

Then there’s Randy, who’s a part of the local Launch Out community. Scott from Colorpop. Andy at November Sundays. Rebecca from The Mine. Joe who’s a local novelist. Alex of JobPact. Dustin from 36DegreesNorth. Kersten of Speakeasy Strategies. Geoffrey at Spiked Mace Software. These are some great and helpful people doing amazing stuff in Tulsa.

The really interesting stories about products and companies.

This week there was a presentation about the Tulsa American Film Festival. It starts next week, will showcase Oklahoma-based filmmakers, and you can find it at Circle Cinema, the Woody Guthrie Center, and Gilcrease Museum.

Last week, a professor from OU shared how writing a Chinese opera started him down the road of creating a software for teaching native Chinese speakers how to more easily pronounce English. I’d never before thought about what it might be like to pronounce English words if all I knew was the Chinese alphabet (where every letter includes two sounds).

A couple months ago, the Tulsa Roughnecks shared their story of bringing professional soccer to Tulsa. Each week, you’re bound to hear a good story. As a baseball purist, I’d bristled at the sight of soccer turf on the ONEOK Field infield dirt. But having heard their story, I may just need to see a match next season.

The really interesting way of looking at the world.

The typical format of the hour allows for two presenters who get six minutes to share what they’re working on followed by about 20 minutes of questions from the community. “Where did you get that idea?” “How does it scale?” “What was your experience with Kickstarter?” “What’s it like selling through Amazon?” “How did you come to the decision to pivot?” “How is that really different from your competitors?” “Not to be a wet blanket, but did you know that product already exists?”

Every week there are a wide array of people, from brand new entrepreneurs to well-seasoned ones that have started and failed and started and failed and started again. It’s always a genuine spirit of collegiality and community that forges connections. Every presentation finishes with a host asking the presenter, “How can we as the community help you?” That same spirit of helpfulness I’ve found creeping into my own conversations.

That was almost two years ago that 1 Million Cups Tulsa got started and I started rubbing shoulders with entrepreneurs.

So what do I know about entrepreneurship now?

Well, first of all, I have a whole new group of friends who are teaching me how to ask better questions in the in’s and out’s of my daily work.

Second, I know that Forbes.com named Tulsa to best place to live for young entrepreneurs. There’s more to Tulsa than oil and Bible colleges.

Third, from Cultivate918 to The Forge to 36DegreesNorth, there’s a whole network of people investing in Tulsa, solving unique problems, and making this a better and more exciting city to live in.

And last, there are local entrepreneurs getting national media exposure. Last December, popular food truck Lone Wolf Banh Mi was featured on CNBC’s reality show Restaurant Startup. And tonight, set your DVRs for 8 pm on ABC. Local startup, and previous 1 Million Cups presenter, Two Guys Bow Tie Company will be on Shark Tank.

1 Million Cups Tulsa meets every Wednesday, 9 am to 10 am, at the TCC Center for Creativity downtown.

Peter White is both a Tulsa native and transplant, having moved away for 9 years and returning 6 years ago. He probably spends too much money supporting the downtown food economy. When not eating within the IDL with his wife, he can be found watching Netflix, whining about the Seattle Mariners’ pitiful offense, reading a theology book, keeping his toddlers from stealing each others’ goldfish crackers, or being a minister of First Methodist. He can be followed on Twitter @thatpeterwhite.

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