The Rise of 1 Million Cups in Bismarck-Mandan
Bismarck-Mandan, known for its resilience and determination, has embraced 1 Million Cups—a national initiative—to foster innovation, connect local entrepreneurs, and drive economic growth. I sat down with two of 1 Million Cups’ community organizers, Evan and Ganya Anderson, where we discussed the journey, impact, and success of 1 Million Cups in Bismarck-Mandan. Here’s how you can get involved and make a difference!
1 Million Cups began in 2012 when the Kauffman Foundation introduced the concept as a means to support and nurture entrepreneurship at a grassroots level. Rooted in the belief that entrepreneurs learn best from one another, 1 Million Cups aimed to create an inclusive environment where local innovators could gather, share their stories, and receive feedback from a supportive community
As news of 1 Million Cups spread across the nation, Bismarck-Mandan quickly recognized the value and potential of this unique initiative. With its rich history of embracing entrepreneurship and fostering a culture of collaboration, the region proved to be the perfect setting for the movement to take root and flourish beginning in 2013. Local organizations, business leaders, and community members rallied together, driven by the shared vision of supporting the dreams and aspirations of their fellow entrepreneurs.
“We knew that we loved the 1 Million Cups events. We decided that we wanted to give back to the entrepreneurial community since we work with so many of them. We felt as if we had a full Rolodex of business advice, so we wanted to help and give back to these entrepreneurs locally. Every week, though, we walk away feeling like we got more information than we gave to others, which helps us feel charged up about the business community and where it’s heading. It’s a really positive, uplifting experience,” Evan said.
After Evan’s first speaking engagement at 1 Million Cups, they continued attending each week, sitting in the front row, asking questions, and making the speakers feel heard. When the original hosts began to feel burnt out, the Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC stepped in, pulling together people from different organizations to revive and sustain the event.
A wide range of people participated in the revival of 1 Million Cups, including an array of local entrepreneurs, representatives from the Chamber EDC, the NDWBC, the Downtown Business Association, ND SBDC, and more from other public and private sectors. Realizing the incredible opportunity to unite the community, they came to the agreement that no single group would dominate or lead the organization. Instead, they all became equal partners, working together towards the unified vision of a strong business landscape in Bismarck-Mandan.
“One of the magical things about Bis-Man 1 Million Cups is that it’s truly grassroots and no one person or group owns it. Everyone pitches in, but it doesn’t belong to anybody with a set agenda. The only mission is to drive the community forward together. We’ve seen some really neat things in this community because we’re working together toward the same mission, which is to change the face of our startup community by connecting local entrepreneurs with one another over one million cups of coffee,” Evan said.
Current Members of the 1MC Organizer Committee
1 Million Cups has had the pleasure of hosting many incredible speakers over the years. Among them, John Bollinger from the Bismarck Larks stands out as a true community leader and success story for Bismarck-Mandan. In October 2016, he shared his plan to bring baseball to the city of Bismarck.
“Now, we can confidently say that the Bismarck Larks have surpassed our expectations. Recently, John returned to our stage to discuss his team’s achievements, upcoming goals, and their other company, Funatix Events. John’s impact extends beyond baseball, uniting our community and inspiring us all. Lucit came on stage very early on. They didn’t have much in their early days, but they had a strong vision of where they were going. We were able to connect them with some others in the community, so this is definitely a great opportunity for anyone who walks through the doors,” Ganya said.
Over the years, 1 Million Cups has had the privilege of hosting some remarkable guests, both in-person and online, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve welcomed esteemed individuals and businesses from the community such as Laughing Sun Brewing, Bobcat Acceleration Center, CoSchedule, Bushel, Kathryn Burgum with Recovery Reinvented, and Senator Hoeven on their stage. While some of these speakers have continued their journeys beyond this platform, they celebrate each and every participant that graces their stage, recognizing the value in their contributions.
At 1 Million Cups, they strive to maintain broad selection criteria, as they believe that stepping onto the stage presents a tremendous growth opportunity for entrepreneurs to showcase their business plans.
“What sets us apart is the friendly and supportive nature of our audience. We create an environment where entrepreneurs can feel at ease, knowing that they are embraced by an accepting and encouraging crowd. No one’s going to throw cabbage! We believe in the power of collaboration, support, and creating an environment that supports entrepreneurial growth,” Ganya said.
Each week, they begin by expressing their appreciation for their sponsors before setting the stage with a community announcement segment. This unique opportunity allows individuals to share their upcoming news or initiatives, as well as present a slide while they speak on their topic. Following this, they proudly highlight the “National Day,” according to the National Day Calendar, before delving into the 10 to 20-minute speaker presentation.
They then use the remaining time for an insightful Q&A session, intended to leverage the audience’s experience to aid the presentation’s greater success. Lastly, community organizers will announce the next week’s speaker, building anticipation for the forthcoming event.
1 Million Cups By The Numbers
- Nearly 10 full years of weekly events.
- Over 20 people have been involved as organizers to date.
- One of the largest in the United States by attendance.
- 193 past live-streamed episodes via Facebook.
- 19,828 attendees since the launch of 1 Million Cups.
- 406 speakers to date.
Recognize Any of These Notables Names?
These are some of the many past speakers that have graced the 1 Million Cups Bismarck-Mandan stage!
Their format ensures that presentations are concise and impactful, lasting around 10 minutes. Evan and Ganya, among other community organizers, take pride in the role of emcee at 1 Million Cups. The emcee not only joins the speaker on stage but also engages in a relaxed and informal conversation. Together, they tackle a few friendly questions, creating a sense of camaraderie and connection. Before they know it, the session comes to an end, leaving participants feeling fulfilled and accomplished. Year after year, this format has proven to be successful, with the event remaining essential for any entrepreneur in the Bis-Man area nearly 10 years in.
As they approach their 10th anniversary, organizers behind 1 Million Cups remain on the lookout for new community members to get involved, no matter their expertise or experience. “When we hear of an entrepreneur that’s never heard of 1 Million Cups before, we get a little sad but very excited to show them the potential. If they care about our business community and support one another, we’d love to get to know them over a cup of coffee,” Evan said.
To celebrate, 1 Million Cups Bismarck-Mandan will be hosting a special evening event in mid-October to celebrate 10 years of 1 Million Cups in their community. This event gives past speakers the opportunity to showcase their business and its growth since its previous appearance. While the event will highlight the culmination of the great work being done by the organization, newcomers are strongly encouraged to join, learn more, and maybe even speak on their business or entrepreneurial efforts.
Did You Know?
1 Million Cups Bismarck-Mandan also engages in informative panels, depending on the speaker. Those topics can range from patent and trademark rules to proper safety with dangerous or flammable products and more.
While newcomers may have a general idea of what to expect from the formal 1 Million Cups event, Evan and Ganya know that it’s not just about the time on stage at 1 Million Cups. While they arrive 30 minutes early, most people come 20 minutes early to catch up with one another, network with newcomers, and share ideas over their morning fuel. If any of the community organizers—along with most attendees—catch a new face in the building, they’re quick to make them feel welcome and excited to attend.
“People are always excited to make new connections and see others from past events. In fact, as soon as the speaker finishes, there’s a queue that forms to talk to that person. Whether it’s giving them business cards, suggestions, or making connections, there’s nearly as much value in the time before and after the event as there is during the event,” Evan said.
The information and potential value that can be pulled from before, during, and after the event is exactly why community organizers and other attendees urge any and all community members interested to join their meetings. According to Evan and Ganya, they often have to dispel a myth that there’s a certain level of criteria or a number of prerequisites to fall under before joining. However, the opposite is the case, as the 1 Million Cups team enjoys seeing people seize an opportunity to present earlier rather than later.
“Some people think that they can’t speak because their business isn’t formally launched, or that they’re not ready for it, but we like to get a wide range of people in different stages of their business dreams. Speakers could receive constructive criticism that makes a world of difference in the path they’re heading down. I love when an audience member suggests an idea to the speaker that they had never thought of. It’s like watching a spark go off in their head in real-time that inspires them to think bigger. Audience members are genuinely interested in getting to know you just as much as you are in connecting with them, so it’s their chance to get a lot of wise people’s opinions from our community that will motivate and challenge them to push themselves further,” Ganya said.
Check out some of 1 Million Cups Bismarck-Mandan’s insightful guests!
The resources available at each 1 Million Cups meeting can be the difference between a side hustle and officially taking the next steps to your business dreams. 1 Million Cups Bismarck-Mandan remains close with an abundance of resources, including aforementioned organizations such as the NDWBC, SBDC, Chamber EDC, and more bright minds who attend regularly, offering valuable services and insight.
“Come to 1 Million Cups, get a free cup of really good coffee on us, and see what’s going on in our community. We try to keep our speakers local to the Bis-Man community, but we’ve made exceptions and reached out to people from Fargo and Grand Forks in the past if they can be very beneficial to our area. If someone has a bold idea that they’re excited about, it’s hard to turn someone away over a bit of distance,” Evan said.
“We always encourage you to listen, get advice from other professionals in the community, and share that advice with other aspiring entrepreneurs in our community. You never know what can happen to you unless you show up and be a part of it. If someone only has 80% of an idea thought out, attending this event could give them the insight, knowledge, and tips to finalize the other 20%. It’s an excellent opportunity to push yourself forward, but also push others in our town forward at the same time,” Ganya said.
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely in the beginning, but it’s not lonely at 1 Million Cups. They’re ready to ask speakers to get very real with them on stage. They ask about their biggest obstacles, whether it’s funding or lacking a certain skill set, and how they overcame those challenges. If they haven’t overcome them yet, what are they doing to come out stronger on the other side? The entire team behind 1 Million Cups is here to listen and give insight to the bright minds pushing the Bismarck-Mandan community forward.
Join on Wednesdays at 9 a.m., keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates!