“There’s something really cool happening in Bismarck-Mandan with this group,” I tweeted on a Wednesday morning from my seat within Dakota Stage in downtown Bismarck.
I was attending the relaunch event for 1 Million Cups (1MC) and there was a great energy permeating the space. 1 Million Cups is a weekly meeting, held in cities across the world, where local entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas and get realtime feedback from audience members who learn from the presentations and, enjoy free coffee, of course! Started in 2012, 1MC is the brainchild of a Kansas City-based entrepreneurship foundation which has expanded to cities worldwide. The Bismarck-Mandan chapter began in October 2013 and has been quietly gaining momentum at the hands of the IDEA Center in Bismarck and a handful of local entrepreneurs who wanted to create a way for entrepreneurs to connect. At the time of its launch, Bismarck-Mandan was the smallest community to have a 1MC chapter, which is indicative of the organizers and their followers who seem to have an uncanny appetite for bringing new ideas to the community (I’ll talk more about this in a bit).
Each Wednesday at 9 a.m., the 1MC program offers two local entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their startups to a diverse audience of mentors, advisors, entrepreneurs, and the general public. Presenters prepare a short educational presentation and engage in several minutes of feedback and questioning after they present. Entrepreneurs gain insight into possible ways they can improve their businesses, gather realtime feedback, and most of all connect with the community and other communities. Presenters can also speak to other 1MC chapters, one of the primary goals of the program.
As I sat listening, I heard refreshing ideas from that week’s presenters like “celebrate entrepreneurship in North Dakota,” “co-working space is the future for office space” and “[North Dakotans] need to focus on what we can do versus what we can’t.”
Along with 1 Million Cups, there are several other exciting activities taking off in Bismarck-Mandan. The organizers announced a Startup Weekend scheduled for January 24-25, 2015. Startup Weekend is an event where developers, designers, marketers, product managers, students and startup enthusiasts get together to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch a startup in 54 hours. Teams spend Saturday and Sunday focused on customer development, validating their ideas and building prototypes with the help of experienced mentors. On Sunday evening, teams demo their products and receive valuable feedback from a panel of experts.
Perhaps even bigger, the group has also applied for the license to host a TEDx locally. At TEDx events, live presenters share ideas designed to help communities, organizations and individuals spark conversations and connections.
So who is behind all these new ideas in Bismarck-Mandan? Luckily, I had had the pleasure of finding out about six months ago when I met Garrett Moon, co-founder of Todaymade and CoSchedule in Bismarck. In the spirit of connecting, Garrett and I actually met through a networking experiment of mine where I invited him (a new LinkedIn connection) to coffee.
“We are putting together a grassroots startup group in Bismarck. Interested?” he said. What he was referring to was Start Bismarck, a grassroots group that is fostering a technology-based startup culture by promoting startup functions, organizing key events and embracing creativity. This group includes the team at the IDEA Center, the founders of Todaymade and CoSchedule, the brothers at Threefold Video Production and several others.
What this means for our community
So why are initiatives like these important to Bismarck-Mandan? Entrepreneurship and innovation are key factors when it comes to fostering a burgeoning economy and vibrant community. Take Fargo or Sioux Falls, for example. Both communities have seen a resurgence in local entrepreneurship, revitalized downtowns and overall pride in the community in recent years. Initiatives like these, and the people behind them, have helped promote such innovative culture locally and globally. In addition, entrepreneurship in North Dakota doesn’t just mean small businesses. There are some really big (multimillion dollar) things happening here!
Since meeting the members of Start Bismarck, I’ve been nothing short of impressed. I thought the YP Network had many irons in the fire; well, so does this group! What I’ve witnessed participating in this group and attending 1 Million Cups, is that their motives are not just entrepreneurship – they are about freely promoting ideas in the community. Just attend a 1MC and you’ll see it’s not about competition, it’s about connections. I truly encourage you to check out a 1MC or Startup Weekend. There is much for young professionals to gain from these dynamic and diverse groups. Where ideas are being shared exponentially, change will occur. The time is now in Bismarck-Mandan!
Stay informed about Start Bismarck’s events and other similar events by signing up for their newsletter at startbismarck.com.
1 Million Cups happens every Wednesday at 9 a.m at Dakota Stage Playhouse located at 412 E Main Ave in Bismarck. For more info about 1MC, visit bisman.sites.1millioncups.com.
Michael Quinn is a co-lead for the YPN Marketing Team. He is a marketing consultant for Investment Centers of America and a self-proclaimed media enthusiast and wannabe entrepreneur. @Michael_L_Quinn