This article was contributed by Jamie Stalfort, UNCW SBTDC Business Launch Specialist and Lead Organizer for 1 Million Cups Wilmington.
Based on the notion that entrepreneurs discover solutions and engage with their communities over a million cups of coffee, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation developed 1 Million Cups in 2012—a free program designed to educate, engage and inspire entrepreneurs around the country.
Through the power of volunteers, 1 Million Cups has grown to more than 160 communities. Wilmington is home to one of these thriving ecosystems, where each week, two entrepreneurs present their business to an audience with the underlying goal being to answer the question: “What can we, as a community, do for your business?”
As we reflect back on our two-year anniversary, there is one thing we can be sure of: Wilmington is incredibly resilient. Our entrepreneurs have overcome hurricanes, a recession, and a pandemic. We started the Wilmington chapter of 1 Million Cups on February 12, 2020, approximately one month before the COVID-19 epidemic shut everything down.
When Laura Brogdon-Primavera first brought the idea of having a 1 Million Cups chapter in Wilmington to the Business Coalition’s attention in March of 2019, we thought the whole thing would be easy. Contrary to our original impressions, hosting 1 Million Cups every week would prove challenging.
First, we had to go through a vetting process through the Kauffman Foundation, which took almost a year. We also had to attend other 1 Million Cups meetings, the closest of which being over an hour away.
We were wary of getting in a car at 7 am and driving to UNC Pembroke, but once the event started, we felt the magic immediately. University faculty, important government figures, entrepreneurs, and members of the community were all in the room, rooting for the two entrepreneurs presenting to succeed. We knew we had to bring this magic to our community.
Our first event was a huge success. We hosted it in the coworking space at the CIE, because we thought it would be more intimate. We quickly discovered that it was a bit too intimate, as we had so many people show up that attendees were lined up in the hall outside, clamoring to see our first presenter. We knew immediately that our hard work had paid off, and we began hosting the event in the much larger event space.
A few weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. We transitioned to Zoom and held our breath to see if the magic would prevail, and it did. We continued to host our meetings each week and had an average of over 30 attendees show up to hear our presenters out despite sometimes being stuck on mute. But that happened to everyone during the transition to Zoom.
Since then, we have hosted 1 Million Cups for 96 Wednesdays. In 2021, we had 400 unique attendees throughout the year. We have had over 120 presenters, including those from Wilmington, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Raleigh, Asheville, and more exotic destinations like Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands!
Our companies have won Coastal Entrepreneur awards, NC Idea grants, and SBIR grants. We don’t want to estimate how many cups of coffee we’ve shared, but knowing our community, that number is well in the thousands.
Now, we look to the future with hopeful hearts that our community will continue to thrive. We could not have made it without help from folks like Heather McWhorter, April Scott, Jay Deaver, Jerry Coleman, Laura Brogdon-Primavera, Jim Roberts, Girard and Tracey Newkirk, Chloe Newsome, Gabrielle Plumez, Alexis Alphin, Wayne Hippo, Diane Durance, Bill Kawczynski, Donna Warren, and many more. Thank you to all our volunteers, presenters, and supporters for all of your hard work in making sure our communities thrive.
With love and thanks,
Jamie Stalfort – Lead Organizer 1 MC Wilmington
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