1 Million Cups: The Perfect Place For Entrepreneurs

Jun 25, 2014

The Greenhouse in St. Petersburg helps grow entrepreneurs. Every Wednesday morning, a group called 1 Million Cups meets to give entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their ideas, mold their businesses and get a free cup of coffee. 

Participants need three things: ideas, feedback and money. They are on their own for the ideas, but 1 Million Cups gives them a chance at feedback and in some cases, money. Sean Kennedy is the manager of The Greenhouse (formerly the Business Assistance Center), and the local organizer for 1 Million Cups. He helped bring the group to the Tampa Bay area in October after hearing about it in Kansas City.

Rescue Readings' Sherry Sacino presents at a 1 Million Cups meeting
Credit Nathan Powell

Every week, two people pitch their ideas to other entrepreneurs. Kennedy says it's is a great way for companies to start, grow and become successful in Tampa Bay.

"We are learning about cool things going on here. There is no immediate outcome. There are no people judging anyone presenting," Kennedy said. "This is just an exploration of what the companies are, and a way for folks to make connections."

Rob Dickens made a successful pitch on ABC's television show "Shark Tank," which landed him a deal with Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban.

Dickens' company, The Great Bull Run, allows people to run with the bulls, just like in Spain, but here in the United States. Dickens said anyone can be a successful entrepreneur, but it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance.

"Basically, you have to have confidence in yourself, that's the most important thing. The confidence that you'll succeed, regardless of whatever your idea for a business may be," Dickens said. "That's really all it takes. There are a lot of people with bad business ideas who turn them into successful companies, simply because they worked hard."

Sherry Sacino worked hard to launch her company, Rescue Reading. She said it is a fun way for students to learn how to be creative in writing stories and better their writing skills.

"It's a tool to help teachers. We are not trying to replace the curriculum. We are not trying to send people to go to home school. We have no agenda other than helping kids write stories," Sacino said.

"Do you have any measurable feedback on how it has helped kids?" an audience member asked Sacino while she made her pitch at a recent 1 Million Cups meeting.

"Other than the kids that I have worked with, teachers love it because they are all focused, and for one, you get kids all quiet and focused in the classroom," Sacino replied.

"Entrepreneurs think a little differently than everybody else, when I come up with my idea in a normal situation, people are like, 'Well, how does it work?'" Sacino said. "But entrepreneurs get it right away. They completely understand it. It's a wonderful opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs because they get it."

Florida Funders CEO David Chinister presenting at a 1 Million Cups event
Credit Nathan Powell

Another presenter at 1 Million Cups was CEO of Florida Funders David Chinister. His company finds investors for new companies. He used the program to evolve his company as well as fund three companies that have presented at 1 Million Cups.

Chinister said pitching at 1 Million Cups helped.

"(My) first presentation went very well, we weren't launched, yet we just had the idea (and) a lot of great response," Chinister said. "We got a lot of exposure from the 1 Million Cups and the fact that three of the four companies we actually listed were presenters at 1 Million Cups including the company that we funded, Savvycard."

Maybe add one more item to an entrepreneur's to do list: connections, which Sean Kennedy said is the most important part of the 1 Million Cups experience.

"Those connections could be investments as you see in 'Shark Tank,' but often more importantly, it's meeting with customers or bringing a new member of the team on that is the missing piece or gaining a mentor," Kennedy said.

The 1 Million Cups group meets every Wednesday at 9 a.m. at The Greenhouse in St. Petersburg.