The momentum behind Spartanburg’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is building. And one of the world’s leading supporters of small business ventures has taken notice.
Spartanburg has been chosen as a host city for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups Program, which seeks to engage, educate, and connect local entrepreneurs, and build startup communities at the grassroots level.
“We are very excited to bring 1 Million Cups to Spartanburg,” said Erin Henderson Ouzts, the event’s lead organizer. “The application process was pretty exhaustive… This is the result of a lot of hard work by many people and we think it’s really going to make an impact on the community.”
Founded in 2012 in Kansas City, Mo., 1 Million Cups is in place in 132 communities across the country, including Greenville, Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, York County, Atlanta, and Charlotte, N.C., according to the program’s website.
Spartanburg will hold its first event from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 13, at the Hub City Tap House at 197 E. St. John St.
Local events will continue to be held at Hub City Tap House on the first Wednesday of each month. All of the events are free and open to entrepreneurs, investors, and other interested members of the community.
The format for each meeting will include a six-minute presentation by one or two entrepreneurs, followed by a 20-minute question and answer session with the audience.
Ouzts said every meeting will close with someone from the audience asking the speakers the question, “What can we as a community do for you?”
Krispy Kreme and Spartanburg-based Little River Roasting will provide free coffee on alternating months.
The Small Business Development Center and the GreenHouse Business Incubator at the University of South Carolina Upstate’s George Dean Johnson Jr. College of Business and Economics will provide audio and visual support, and interns to help out.
Volunteers who will serve in leadership roles for 1 Million Cups Spartanburg include:
-Brian Brady, director of the GreenHouse
-Daniel Craig, associate at the Johnson, Smith, Hibbard & Wildman Law Firm
-Jed Dearybury, director of professional development and communications for the Palmetto State Teachers Association
-Doug Gregory, director of administration and research for the Spartanburg Economic Futures Group
-Erin Ouzts, president of LaunchPad Ventures
-Joseph McMillan, CEO of Atlas Organics
-Reggie Pryor, president of Pryor Diversified
-Betsy Neely Sikma, director of small business and entrepreneurial development for the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce
-Elizabeth Smith, area manager of the Spartanburg Small Business Development Center
-Lekesa Whitner, case manager at Community Works Carolina and the Northside Development Group
-Cal Wicker, assistant vice president of BB&T in Spartanburg
Ouzts said she came up with the idea to bring 1 Million Cups to Spartanburg in 2014.
“I saw that Columbia and Asheville [N.C.] have one. Charleston was getting this. I thought, ‘Spartanburg needs to have this too,’” she said. “There are so few opportunities for entrepreneurs to gather, collaborate, and commiserate.”
Her idea began to pick up steam after she introduced it to her peers in the 2016-17 Leadership Spartanburg class.
Founded in 1979, Leadership Spartanburg is a nine-month course offered through the Spartanburg Chamber that is designed to prepare leaders and volunteers for community service.
“Everyone jumped on board and figured out how to get this done,” Ouzts said.
Ouzts said she will attend1 Million Cups’ annual organizers summit next month, which will give her opportunities to learn from and network with other event leaders.
Organizers said the program’s name was derived from the idea that entrepreneurs across the nation network and discover solutions over on million cups of coffee.
Ouzts said the program does not offer any start-up funding, but the Kauffman Foundation provides in-kind support, such as gifts, banners, promotional items, T-shirts, and leveraging support from local sponsors.
“This is an indicator of all that is going on in Spartanburg,” Wicker said. “It’s indicative of how this community supports business… When you put together the list of businesses we have in Spartanburg, it’s pretty impressive. This is a sustainable idea that we will be able to carry out for many years to come.”
Ouzts said organizers are in the process of recruiting the event’s first speakers and should have those individuals nailed down in the coming weeks.
Applications for future speakers are being accepted, she said. Organizers said ideal candidates would be for-profit or nonprofit entrepreneurs from the start-up phase to the five-year mark in the life of their endeavor.
“One of the things I find the most compelling and true to Spartanburg is the grassroots origin of this idea coupled with huge pie-in-the-sky thinking,” Sikma said. “I love the narrative: that a group of people joined a leadership program to make their community even stronger and dared to dream and bring in this national event.”
For more information, visit: www.1millioncups.com/spartanburg.