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One Million Cups’ Nate Olson talks at TEDxCoMo, answers our questions


Nate Olson, a community builder for entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, talks about 1 Million Cups earlier this month at TEDxCoMo in Columbia, Mo.

One million of anything is a lot. About a year ago, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation‘s Nate Olson set out to reach that many cups of coffee within the Kansas City startup community when he helped created 1 Million Cups (1MC), a weekly program that provides two startups the opportunity to present their companies to an attentive audience. It’s since expanded to cities around the country, including Des Moines, St. Louis, Reno and Houston, and plans are in place for more cities to take a sip of what has percolated in Kansas City.

Olson was in Columbia, Mo., April 6 at TEDxCoMo (video below) to talk about 1MC, which celebrated its one-year anniversary April 10 by bringing nine past presenters back on the stage.

With the recent momentum for 1MC, we followed up with Olson in an email interview to learn about the program’s next steps, a new program they’ll introduce this summer, how they’ll reach their goal faster and more.

Silicon Prairie News: How does the trajectory of 1MC compare to your initial plans? What’s in the works?

Nate Olson: One of our researchers sent me a spreadsheet in the early days of 1MC. It showed that with an average attendance of 50 entrepreneurs/week, it would take over 400 years to reach a million cups of coffee. … Researchers, they’re so literal. 1 Million Cups is a metaphor for how to build community. Although 1MC was never really intended to get as big as it has, we have embraced the fact that this program has gotten major traction. It is my full-time job to seed, water and grow 1MC in startup communities around the country. Plans… Ain’t nobody got time for that! In all honesty, I’m just looking to continue to grow this program, create educational/experiential learning opportunities for entrepreneurs, and to continually bring value to the entrepreneurs we’re serving.

This summer we will introduce a 1MC Passport Program, which is to say that entrepreneurs who have presented two times in their home communities can present their companies in any other 1MC city. This becomes extremely valuable when you think about growing a company outside of your region.

SPN: At TEDXCoMo, you mentioned it’ll be in 14 more cities this year. Do you know some of the those cities?

NO: I’d love to tell you where we are headed next, but then our communications department wouldn’t get to have as much fun releasing the news. We are going to be scattered across the nation. 1MC is heavily seeded in the Midwest by design, but we are growing East and West. We should be to 10 communities by early summer. I’m always working on the next cohort of cities that will launch.

SPN: Do you see the format staying the same or are there ideas on its evolution?

NO: 1 Million Cups will evolve with the needs of each community we are in. I like to think of 1 Million Cups as a platform for which many opportunities await. I’d like to see the entrepreneurs continue to create the types of opportunities and events they would like to see. 

SPN: Now that you’re no longer a local organizer, what’s your mission in year two?

NO: My job is to empower entrepreneurs to create meaningful programming in their communities. I spend most of my time developing the tools and resources they need to run a successful program (like our new website, 1millioncups.com). So, there’s a lot of growth that will take place this year, our program will continue to develop, but mostly I hope 1MC educates entrepreneurs, builds community and creates great companies. 


Credits: Screenshot and video from TEDxTalks on YouTube.

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