If you walk through the doorway of Steamwork Center in Valencia on a Wednesday morning, you’ll be greeted by a passel of visionaries, some with robust business experience and others with a fledgling enterprise still in the germination phase. You’ll get a friendly nod from most, handshakes from some, and even a hug or two from someone you’ve met before.
That’s when you wake up and smell the optimism. And coffee – definitely coffee.
These local residents are there for 1 Million Cups, a weekly networking event based on the premise that “entrepreneurs discover solutions and engage with their communities over a million cups of coffee.” In fact, people gather in more than 180 cities across the U.S. every Wednesday from 8-10 a.m. for the program, which was begun by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2012. Kauffman believed it was a fundamental right for anyone who had a big idea to be able to bring it to life.
It’s open to the community and free to attend – you simply step up to the Keurig, pick out a coffee or tea pod and brew yourself a mug of something hot.
After everyone takes a seat, you hear a booming voice from the front of the room. That’s emcee Kyle Duffy, co-owner of Optimus Computing and a member of the Steamwork Center’s team. He welcomes the crowd with the expertise of a College of the Canyons Speech Team national champion-turned-coach, which he is. He follows up his welcome with a requisite group selfie.
Each week attendees get to hear from two different presenters, who share their new businesses, which need to be less than five years old. One at a time, the individuals describe what they do, sometimes augmented by a power point presentation, for just six minutes, followed by 20 minutes of questions from the audience.
“The entrepreneurs who speak in front of us each week aren’t afraid to be vulnerable and open up to us about the tough situations they’ve gone through as business owners and visionaries,” Duffy says. “They often don’t have the paycheck cushion of a 9-to-5 job to keep them stable.”
Run by volunteers
Run completely by volunteers like Duffy, the program is designed to educate, engage and inspire entrepreneurs around the country.
“I like 1 Million Cups because each week you get to walk in someone else’s shoes and experience their journey,” Duffy says. “Some exciting, some tragic, but all are magic.”
Rob Baldwin, who recently started a non-profit called First Stone Community Maker Labs, is not only a regular, he fills in as emcee when Duffy’s on vacation.
“1 Million Cups is a place I come to hear the story of how other entrepreneurs have overcome obstacles in growing/launching their business,” Rob says. “There have been times when I have had the opportunity to recommend a different strategy for others in attendance, as they have done for me. I always say, it’s the highlight of my week!”
The Kauffman Foundation’s program aims to empower entrepreneurs with the tools and resources to break down barriers that stand in the way of starting and growing their businesses. It dovetails perfectly with the mission of Steamwork Center’s founder Tania Mulry.
“As soon as I heard about 1 Million Cups and its connection to the Kauffman Foundation, which has a long history and deep well of resources supporting entrepreneurship, I knew it would be a fit for Steamwork Center,” Mulry says. “Our mission is to provide resources to help entrepreneurs start, launch and scale businesses successfully. Linking them to other entrepreneurs and resources on a weekly basis through an interactive, inclusive Q&A format was a perfect fit.”
Both the Foundation and Mulry’s shared workspace/training center foster a strongly supportive atmosphere, downplaying the competitive nature of some networking programs. Steamwork Center’s mission statement includes words like “nurture,” “build,” and “partnership,” while the 1 Million Cups culture is described with terms such as “diversity,” “equity” and “inclusion.”
The range of experience is diverse, which enables experienced professionals to sharpen startup entrepreneurs and the other way around.
“As business owners we need to keep learning about our industry, ever-changing technology, etc.,” says Carolyn Nelson, owner of Capital Office Products in Santa Clarita. “1 Million Cups is a place to meet other business owners in various stages … and share information and ideas. I have been in business 24 years, I have a lot of experience, but I always know there is something new for me to learn, whether it is from a seasoned business owner or a new one.”
Presenters run the gamut, as well. Some of the local individuals who have shared their business trials and successes include: Samantha Innes of Jigsaw Wealth Management; corporate coach and author Roger Doumanian; Byron Davis of Authority Labs; Aazam Irilian of Heal the Heart; JC Burnett of Loadchief; Cynthia Szamborski of Purrfect Paw Prints; and YouTube chemistry
tutor Melissa Maribel, whose brother, Ryan Rodriquez, live streams 1 Million Cups each week.
1 Million Cups is temporarily being hosted by The Rebeccas & Co. at Keller Williams Realty,
25124 Springfield Court, Suite 100 in Valencia, due to construction at Steamwork Center, which is located at 28368 Constellation Road, Suite 360 in Valencia. For details, visit 1MillionCups.com/santaclarita or Facebook.com/steamworkcenter