1-Million Cups aims to bridge the divide among businesses, government, and non-profit communities

It’s Morning Edition on KRPS; I’m Fred Fletcher-Fierro. One year ago, the pandemic created a lot of uncertainty, specifically how it would affect businesses. Today, the economy of Southwest Missouri is looking stronger than other parts of the country. And a new community group in Joplin is looking to increase and deepen those gains. I prepared this report to take a closer look.

1-Million Cups is well established and started by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, 9-years ago. The non-profit has spread across 40-States and 150 communities, including Springfield and now Joplin. Erin Slifka, Marketing and Public Information Manager at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, says members of the Joplin 1-Million Cups group have attended presentations in Springfield and spoke with organizers there so that Joplin’s group will have an excellent foundation to build on. “The folks up in Springfield have been great because they’ve been able to kind of mentor us and walk us through and build a partnership, because we can feed off each other’s markets cause we’re close enough. And Bentonville as well as a chapter.”

If this sounds like a Chamber of Commerce event, you’re right. And that’s what makes 1-Million Cups different. It’s not owned, operated, or even organized by local chambers. That means members of the business community, including employees of nonprofits and governmental entities such as Missouri Southern, Joplin Schools, Crowder College, or other county, state, or city employees such as Director of the Joplin Public Library, Jeana Gockley, can attend. She explains how a 1-Million Cups meeting is organized. “People come together. Each week we have two presenters. Who present about their business. A very short presentation, about six minutes. And then they offer up what their problems are. And then audience members can then ask questions of those business owners, and provide support, feedback, advice, even referrals.”

The community-owned resource is casting a wide net to any person that wants to start a business, is in business, and those business owners who have been in the games for years, and everybody in-between. According to Gockley the group’s depth isn’t only dependent on that day’s presenters, but the audience that 1-Million Cups attracts. “Anyone, not even just Joplin specifically, we want to encourage people from Pittsburg, Carl Junction, Webb City. Other areas as well, to come to these meetings as well, any sort of semi-local entrepreneurs are welcome, even business owners.”

1-Million Cups hopes the inter-mingling among colleagues from other businesses, governmental and nonprofit organizations will help spur innovation and ideas and new relationships. A good example is using the library as a resource for those looking to start a new business, and Gockley says the library can connect them to those resources. “As the library, we have resources that will help entrepreneurs and business owners, and that’s the role that we’re taking.”

Lowell Lane is a business consultant from Carthage who has attended 1-Million Cups presentations in Springfield that have attracted as many as 200 people. Lowell says that the strength of 1-Million Cups is the diversity of workplace backgrounds and the freedom of ideas that comes with attending and watching a presentation. “When people would go up and talk, it didn’t really matter what they brought up; somebody in the audience had something to contribute, which, that was awesome. And that’s why we encourage the community, no matter what field you’re in, to come.”

According to the data released from the US Labor Department, about 20 percent of businesses fail within one year. Lowell recently spoke with a family business owner who had operated a business for years and branched out to open a retail shop. 1-Million Cups seeks to bridge the divide for entrepreneurs and business owners who have questions and don’t know where to turn. “He said, we got Quickbooks set up, and that’s great. But he said the value of meeting is, there’s just lots of things I don’t know and getting advice and help to talk about those things. Cause he said, there isn’t anywhere for me to get support. Cause a lot of business owners feel like they’re all out there on their own.”

Meetings are free to attend, open to the public, and there is no dress code. The first meeting of the Joplin 1-Million Cups group will take place at Crowder College Advancing Training and Technology Center next Wednesday morning at 8:30.

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