one million cups

Skip Mounts, Dean of the School of Business and Public Management at College of Coastal Georgia, addresses attendees of the 1 Million Cups meeting in 2016.

My next two contributions to this Murphy Center space will deal with local entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship in our community and at the College. Today’s column will update you on our 1 Million Cups program. As part of this, you are invited to our monthly meeting on May 1, 2019. This marks the end of the third year believe it or not.

When we started, several supporters asked me if I expected our meetings to last more than six months. Surely people will lose interest. There can’t be that many entrepreneurs out there. We are, after all, a hospitality and tourism driven market place. These folks are the nicest “doubting Thomas’s” I have ever met — and they come every month.

To tell the story, I need to begin at the beginning. What started us down this road?

You may recall that research by Dr. Don Mathews, Director of the Murphy Center and Professor of Economics at the College, showed our area to be the first, out of Georgia and the United States, into recession in 2007. His research also showed that our area was the last, out of Georgia and the United States, to recover. This is to say, we were in a deep recession for a long, long time. Everyone else looked at us in their rear-view mirrors.

Why? Lots of reasons — industry mix, labor force participation rates, etc. One reason that came out of discussions within the Murphy Center and with our Executive-in-Residence, Reg Murphy, was that our area lacked an entrepreneurial community and a supportive ecosystem. We needed to have people create businesses if we were ever to recover and hopefully catch up.

If this was really the case, then what could we do to stimulate entrepreneurship? In search of answers, we found the 1 Million Cups program developed by the Kauffman Center of Kansas City, the largest nonprofit studying and supporting entrepreneurship. Under this program, entrepreneurs and other interested parties would gather regularly to support others by listening to their entrepreneurial stories, learning about their ventures, helping with their problems and cheering their success.

So, after a year-long wait, 1 Million Cups-Brunswick began with a small number of supporters willing to take a chance. One of the few requirements of the folks in Kansas City was that the event should be held in a nonthreatening environment. Presenters need to be comfortable as many probably don’t like talking to strangers in strange places. While cities have incubators, innovation labs, etc., we have Tipsy McSway’s. What better place than a bar. We may be the only bar — with the best owner/supporter in Susan Bates — in the 1 Million Cups program. In fact, I have had other 1 Million Cups promotors tell me that we have the best place.

So, three years ago, Brunswick became site 78, and one of the first with monthly meetings. We joined Georgia sites in Savannah and Atlanta. Now, there are 181 cities with 7 sites in Georgia (Atlanta, Atlanta-South, Athens, Cherokee, Augusta, Savannah, and Valdosta). Now, the first Wednesday of the month, entrepreneurs, hopeful entrepreneurs, supporters, and the curious show up to listen, question, support, and drink one of a million cups of coffee.

So, come celebrate our third birthday. We will have one entrepreneur present and then we will revisit two entrepreneurial ventures that are bringing renewal to downtown; Eric Vonk of Richland Rum and Chris and Allyson Moline and Chris and Jeff Coyle of Silver Bluff Brewing Company that is growing out the ground as we write.

We have had 60 presenters, all of whom were filmed. You can see them at www.1millioncups.com/brunswick. Go look. Listen to their stories. Discover the entrepreneurs of downtown — bagels on St. Simons, haunted houses in Nahunta, a nonprofit looking to fund research for child cancer, a teenager and a cool food truck — and on and on. More importantly, do you see your story? Better yet. Come join us. It’s only one day a month — in a bar for gosh sake.

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