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One Million Cups marks one year
Posted 04/24/2017 11:08AM


For the past year, on the first Wednesday of every month, a solid crowd can be found congregating inside Tipsy McSway's, a downtown eatery and bar. But as it is only 9 a.m., the patrons haven't gathered for lunch or libations.

Instead, the group has come to hear presentations of local entrepreneurs, speaking as a part of the 1 Million Cups program. The national initiative, brought to Glynn County by Skip Mounts, a professor of economics and dean at the college of business at the College of Coastal Georgia.

Mounts had first discovered the program while visiting the Kaufman Foundation in Kansas City, Kansas. Like the name suggests, the meetings center on coffee and are held in cities across the nation. Two presenters give six-minute presentations outlining challenges their businesses face. Then the audience is given time to offer feedback.

Mounts felt the area needs to create more of an entrepreneurial ecosystem and brought the program here to foster that kind of energy. At the start, he was not sure how it would be received.

"I really had no expectations. And that was because I didn't know what to expect. Each twist and turn, every passing month has been full of surprises," he said.

"I knew the venue, Tipsy's, would be really good and our sponsors (Wake Up Coffee) and the folks at the career academy were very dedicated. But I thought maybe we would get 10 to 15 people each time."

For all of his numeral prowess, Mounts was wrong about those figures. The meetings have drawn 40 to 50 spectators, on average. Some of those are business owners or would-be entrepreneurs. Others are retirees looking to serve as mentors to those needing guidance.

Mounts was a bit taken aback by the response, especially considering how small Brunswick is compared to larger locations.

"We have also had two presenters each time. I have seen some cities — there are 115 1 Million Cups cities — some of those are weekly and others are monthly. But some just have one presenter but we have had two each time," he said.

"We are also booked through August. So I think what's happening is that a lot of people are telling others, 'you need to present at 1 Million Cups. It is not just me calling people on the phone or knocking on doors. I have also gotten a lot of suggestions about who I should ask to present. And I've had people ask me how it is going ... just out of the blue."

Mounts has also seen the real-world effects of the networking event. After one particularly packed meeting, which included Erik Vonk, the owner of Richland Rum, another entrepreneur decided to start a similar venture.

"The brew pub guy was able to come here and talk with Erik at the meeting which was really cool. It was also nice to find out how many downtown businesses were owned by women ... I think that they are meeting on their own now after some went to a 1 Million Cups meeting," he said.

"So I have learned that, while it is a simple program, it has really worked, especially in getting people together to talk."

The next meeting, the program's official anniversary, will be held at 9 a.m. May 3 at Tipsy's.

And while Mounts is proud to see the community engagement thus far, he is still hoping to make some tweaks to improve it.

"We still need to be more formal in how we engage the mentoring community. We need to be more deliberate in that. But I think that if we can show the mentoring community the success of one year, then they might realize that this idea of an entrepreneurial ecosystem is here to stay," he said.

Even so, Mounts is thrilled by the progress the program has made and the influence it has had on the community. He hopes that it will continue to generate a focus on inspiring individuals to realize their dreams, all while stimulating the local economy.

"It's been very rewarding. And it certainly is not just me ... it's been the entire community," he said.

"But the whole thing is just people telling their stories to others, sharing their experiences. It is all about talking to one another and learning from each other."

The Brunswick News/File photo

Joe Nehila, publisher of Tails of the Lowcountry magazine, speaks at the first 1 Million Cups local meeting in 2016 to a group of business people at Tipsy McSway's in Brunswick.

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