By LINDSEY ADKISON The Brunswick NewsAn economist, Skip Mounts has studied and taught the subject for decades.
And through his experiences, the College of Coastal Georgia professor has learned that the more entrepreneurs in an area, the stronger the local economy. It's one of the reasons he wanted to start teaching entrepreneurship to students as part of the curriculum.
"In economics, entrepreneurs are pretty important people because they give resources movement, so I've always been interested in entrepreneurship from an economics perspective," he said.
"I wanted to start teaching entrepreneurship. I know how to teach economics, but I didn't really know how to teach entrepreneurship so last summer, in June, I went to the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, which is ... the biggest and the most well-known nonprofit for the study of entrepreneurship in the country."
Mounts was impressed by what he saw. One of the programs that quickly caught his eye was a business initiative called One Million Cups.
"The One Million Cups of Kansas City was held across campus. It was the first One Million Cups site in the country, and it just celebrated its fourth anniversary so it's sort of a new thing," he said.
The program, which includes free coffee, gives business owners a platform to stand up in front of a group of other entrepreneurs to discuss their business model and problems they encounter. At each meeting, speakers apply and two are chosen to share their concept during the hour-long meeting.
After a short presentation, those in attendance can ask questions and offer advice. The entire goal of the program is to create a network where solutions can be found.
Mounts said since its inception, it's been very well received.
"When it first started in Kansas City, four people came. When I attended the meeting, 300 people came," he said. "And they say that happens every week."
The idea and engagement impressed Mounts. In four years, One Million Cups has spread to more than 80 communities across the nation.
He thought it would be perfect for Glynn County.
"The purpose is to build a culture of entrepreneurship by getting entrepreneurs to network with each other, and mentors are a part of that network in a non-threatening, educational environment. I thought that was really cool," he said. "So the week that I was there I started getting excited about it.
"We know from studies that Don Mathews has done at the Reg Murphy Center for Business here that communities with strong entrepreneurship recover faster from recessions than other areas. We certainly need that."
Mounts returned and got the ball rolling. He signed up for the Kauffman Foundation's program, which now lists Brunswick among its 89 communities, many of which are much larger with more diverse economies.
"If you look on their website, which is listed alphabetically, you see Albany, N.Y., Atlanta, Boulder, Colo., and there's Brunswick. Most of these are larger places, like San Francisco. There are some that are smaller and that I'm not familiar with, but just being listed among these is really great," he said. "There are only three in Georgia: Atlanta, Savannah and now, Brunswick."
He also lobbied members of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, the UGA Small Business Development Center, the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau and others to join the cause. Each has agreed to be a sponsor.
He also secured a location for the meetings: Tipsy McSway's, 1414 Newcastle St., downtown Brunswick. Wake-Up Coffee provides the trademark beverages.
He also put out the call for business mentors, which he feels is a key piece of the puzzle.
"We should have some of the best mentors in the country considering some of the people who live across the causeway," he said, alluding to the many business men and women who moved to St. Simons Island and Sea Island after retirement.
Mounts and his partners plan to hold the first One Million Cups meeting at 9 a.m. May 4 at Tipsy McSway's. From there, the group will meet once a month, on the first Wednesday of the month.
Those who are interested in being one of the two presenters to speak for six minutes can sign up.
"If someone wants to present, they need to go online to the Brunswick One Million Cups page and read the information. They give you a lot of good information with videos on how to present. It has to be done in a certain way. It can't be promotional. Someone can't get up and say 'hire me to solve your business problems' because this is a 501c3 nonprofit," he said.
"So then they fill out the application to speak and the organizers will give them a call and talk to them. Then we will chose two to speak at each meeting. These can be businesses or nonprofits."
Mounts hopes by engaging more business men and women as mentors, more entrepreneurs will emerge or even be drawn to the area. That, he feels, will be a big boost to the economic health of the Isles.
One Million Cups could help to spark that.
"There needs to be a vehicle for creative people to get together to talk to one another. And a lot of people are creative in business and in nonprofit settings. Every nonprofit was started by someone who was passionate about that purpose," he said.
"Businesses are also started by people who are passionate about what they do. This is place they can come once a month to talk about that. The big picture is to create a culture of entrepreneurs and mentors that simply meet and talk about problems."