Ted Talk mixed with Shark Tank gives you 1Million Cups

Words by Geoffrey Daley
Photos by Lauren Baker

Each week, entrepreneurs and experienced business people gather at the Iowa Science Center of Des Moines to create a “Shark Tank”-like atmosphere for innovative business ventures.

The group is 1Million Cups, and it has been embraced by the Des Moines business community. It is a national organization with a website that boasts of bringing entrepreneurs together over “1 million cups of coffee.” It has branches in more than 100 different locations all over the United States. The organization provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs to build network connections as well as collaborate to improve their business ventures.

The event, held at 8 a.m. on Wednesdays, includes many exchanged business cards and a fair intake of coffee before everybody floods into the auditorium where entrepreneurs present their startup’s goals, background, operations and products or services. The Des Moines chapter of 1MC was hosted in a coffee shop for its first two years in the city, but now meets at the Science Center of Iowa.

Mason Cook community organizer for 1MC opens the event.

Two of 1MC’s most recent presenters were from FindBob Ltd., represented by Sylvia Gallo, and Iowa Startup Accelerator, also known as NewBoCo, which was represented by Molly Monk. Both companies focus on utilizing innovative aspects to help other companies build themselves, whether that’s in consulting teams as NewBoCo, or providing companies with potential account leadership.

“FindBob is a software company from Toronto, Canada that provides enterprise perpetuation management platforms for the insurance and financial services industry,” Gallo said in an e-mail. “FindBob has graduated from the Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA) located in Des Moines, Iowa. With our white labeled solution, FindBob encourages better transition behavior for independent financial advisors and insurance agents.” The GIA provides an opportunity for insurance startup companies to build the business and nurture innovative services in insurance.

NewBoCo is an investment for equity company. In its three years of existence, NewBoCo has picked up two startups out of Iowa and is already yielding fiscal benefits from past venture investments.It helps early stage startups grow and build a business rapidly over a year through prototype/technological development, education, team collaboration, structural design, and capital gains. All of these are services a startup needs in order to continue progression through any business’s lifecycle.

Molly Monk awaits a question about NewBoCo in the Q&A session.

Ken Sherman, a return attendee who works as a professional portrait photographer, mentioned some of his favorite aspects of 1MC. “Networking, meeting other like-minded people, people in business and to start forging connections with people in the community. That’s really what my goal is, for me,” Sherman said. He also said he enjoys “the morning coffee, just people chatting, having a conversation, seeing what’s happening with each other.”

Des Moines 1MC community organizer Ben McDougal said companies come to the event seeking many different results.

“The presenters that we see — that’s part of the fun, seeing so many different types of businesses and types of industries that they’re interacting with,” McDougal said. “With that diversity also comes various stages. I think it’s great to see these folks use this (literal) stage as a kind of formal launch and taking that to really evolving their ideas into reality, in addition (to) the folks who have traction, who have been building, who may have even launched, but are using 1MC as a backboard for new ideas.”

After the presentations, the event rolls into a Q&A session. “Entrepreneurialship can be lonely,” McDougal said. He explained that most entrepreneurs have close factions to which they expose their businesses. These factions can include family, friends, or co-creators. The Q&A gives the feeling of experiencing an outside world, moving away from the usual inspectors of the venture and having fresh new diverse eyes examine the business.

“What a great community. These guys can ask questions — I love that,” Monk said. “One of the hardest things of doing a presentation is not having people ask questions, but this community blew me away with their really insightful questions.”

McDougal said he truly enjoys being a community organizer for 1MC because of “that little burst of acceleration that 1MC can provide, whether it’s that person that you meet, or that introduction made or that feedback point you hadn’t thought about.” He likes that it is an event full of the exchange of knowledge, the development of business relationships and a strong platform for young entrepreneurs to work on their business plan.

“You can’t have a startup accelerator work if you don’t have entrepreneurs to be in it. If you don’t have entrepreneurs to be in it, you don’t have teams to put through your program,” Monk said. “If you don’t have a strong ecosystem with connections, and people who want to buy your customer’s product and want to be mentors and help them out, they’re going to fail after their out of your program… if we want to build up businesses in Iowa we need to have a strong ecosystem that supports them.”

1MC was created by the Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City, Missouri. The idea of 1MC was to allow start-ups the opportunity to draw traffic to ideas that are not in the mainstream. Des Moines is one of 1MC’s first expansion communities, formed in 2012, and is in its third year hosting events in the Science Center of Iowa. McDougal said the switch in venue helped the presenter go from a coffee-shop feel to a lights-in-your-face atmosphere. Seating is more focused on the presenter. The changes allow entrepreneurs to give presentations similar to Ted Talks for free while also enjoying coffee and the opportunity to expand a professional’s knowledge and network.