Spartanburg chapter of 1 Million Cups launches

Spartanburg's edition of 1 Million Cups kicked off on Wednesday, Sept. 13.

The startup culture brewing in Spartanburg picked up more steam Wednesday.

Spartanburg’s first installment of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups program was held at Hub City Tap House at 197 E. St. John St. near downtown.

More than 60 people showed up to help launch the program, which seeks to engage, educate, and connect local entrepreneurs, as well as to build startup communities at the grassroots level.

“Today was wonderful,” said Erin Ouzts, lead organizer for 1 Million –Spartanburg. “This was truly a team effort and everyone did an amazing job. I just want to thank them for all of their hard work. It really paid off.”

Ouzts, who came up with the vision in 2014 to bring the program to Spartanburg, said event planners hoped to attract 40 participants to the inaugural session.

By comparison, the national program’s Charleston edition had only 15 people show up for its launch a few years ago, Outzs said.

“I think it went really well,” said Cal Wicker, assistant vice president of BB&T in Spartanburg, who is part of a volunteer team helping to lead the program. “The fact that we exceeded our [attendance] goal is a testament to the excitement that is building here in Spartanburg. We have a lot going on and people want to get involved.”

The session included presentations by Joseph McMillan, founder of Atlas Organics, and Chris Jefferson, founder of B.A.R.S. Academy.

Each presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience.

Joseph McMillan, CEO of Atlas Organics, presented during the inaugural 1 Million Cups–Spartanburg event.

McMillan’s company grew out of the recycling company Junk Matters, which he started in 2013 while he was still a student at Wofford College.

Jefferson’s venture, which aims to help young aspiring musicians in the community, grew out of the gospel hip-hop artist’s participation in Spartanburg’s 14-week business accelerator Start:ME.

One of the high points from Wednesday’s event occurred when Jefferson spontaneously rapped a few lines describing his experiences and future goals as an entrepreneur.

The crowd responded with thunderous applause.

Chris Jefferson, founder of B.A.R.S. Academy, showed off his rap skills during the event.

Betsy Neely Sikma, a volunteer leader for 1 Million Cups–Spartanburg and director of small business and entrepreneurial development for the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said the program will continue to focus on diversity.

Sikma said the program ties in well with the community’s five-year economic and community development strategy OneSpartanburg, which officially launched in January.

That strategy includes the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“The goal of OneSpartanburg is to let the social and economic foundation of this community grow into its unique structure and to cultivate it so that it’s the fullest, most fruitful version of itself,” Sikma said. “It’s organic, not imposed. And it’s got to be inclusive.

“The beauty of a program like 1 Million Cups is that it’s fuel for the grassroots movement that is Spartanburg. Through projects like this, we are able to provide fertile soil in which the seeds of innovation can thrive.”

Local events will continue to be held at Hub City Tap House on the first Wednesday of each month. The next event is scheduled for Oct. 4.

All of the events are free and open to entrepreneurs, investors, and other interested members of the community.

Krispy Kreme and Spartanburg-based Little River Roasting will provide free coffee on alternating months.

The Spartanburg Area 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.

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.

More than 60 people attended 1 Million Cups–Spartanburg’s first session.

Founded in 2012 in Kansas City, Mo., 1 Million Cups is in place in more than 130 communities across the country, including Greenville, Charleston, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, York County, Atlanta, and Charlotte, N.C., according to the program’s website.

Ouzts said the presenters for the meeting on Oct. 4 are still being finalized.

“We have a few students right now that I think could definitely engage with this, and I’m going to encourage them to apply,” said Lynn Mullin, assistant director of entrepreneurial programs in The Space in the Mungo Center at Wofford College. “There is a lot of institutional support for entrepreneurism in Spartanburg. The key will be making sure that support lines up with what our entrepreneurs need.

“I think this program is great because it takes entrepreneurs who are embedded in the community and exposes them to other entrepreneurs and opportunities to share their experiences.”




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