Joplin has become the seventh Missouri community to embrace the popular 1 Million Cups initiative designed to help local entrepreneurs push through barriers preventing them from growing their businesses.

The program was conceptualized by the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in early 2012, under the belief that it was a fundamental American right for anyone who had a big business proposal to be given the necessary tools and encouragement to bring that idea to life.

Joplin’s inaugural meeting is set to take place at 9 a.m. on either Wednesday, March 4, or Wednesday, March 11, at the Joplin Public Library, 1901 E. 20th St. It’s a unique program, said Loni Smith, one of eight local community organizers who helped establish the free, weekly event in Joplin. Unlike most business get-togethers, however, networking is prohibited.

“This is everybody coming together to just have conversations and to listen to one another,” Smith said. “There are no sales, no pitching — just a presentation.”

After everyone has gathered together, shaken hands and grabbed the requisite cups of coffee, there will be two weekly presenters, each giving six-minute presentations to speak about their start-ups, important goals and what barriers are preventing them from growing. A 20-minute problem-solving, question-and-answer session immediately follows each presentation.

“The presentations don’t need to be polished; it’s not pitching to investors. It can be vulnerable. We want vulnerability,” said Smith, who serves as the director of small business incubation at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s about being vulnerable and creating a community culture that supports (local) entrepreneurship.”

The most successful presenters, she continued, are those willing to talk “about their real struggles. Everybody else in the room is there for a reason — to let them know that they are not alone, that there are people in our community who have faced the exact same struggles they’re going through and they’re willing to listen and help.”

To participate, start-up businesses must be less than five years old and willing to ask for help, Smith said.

Jeana Gockley, director of the Joplin Public Library, attended Springfield’s 1MC program for nearly a year and a half. She was a perfect choice, Smith said, to act as a fellow community organizer for the Joplin program.

“What was really great about 1MC is that people would share what a problem was that they were having with their business, and there would be people in the audience who would give feedback (such as) what they would suggest to deal with those problems,” Gockley said. “And people in the audience would say, ‘Meet with me afterwards. I will connect you with (this person).’ The connections that were made were really valuable.”

The coffee-fueled 1MC program is not led by the chamber. It’s designed, purposely, so that no one entity can slap down an ownership label.

“This is owned by Joplin,” Smith said. “In order for this to be successful, the Joplin community needs to be behind it. ... Everyone has to be invested in wanting to join and participate. Everybody, collectively together, has everybody’s best interests in mind.”

As of early 2020, 170 communities nationwide have adopted 1MC, including the nearby communities of Springfield; Miami and Grove in Oklahoma; and Bentonville, Arkansas.

“It seems like a perfect thing,” Gockley said. “I’m just really excited to be part of a group that’s bringing 1MC to Joplin.”

To register or for more information, go to www.1millioncups.com/joplin.

Organizers

Joining Loni Smith and Jeana Gockley as Joplin’s 1 Million Cups community organizers are Kenneth Surbrugg, Lowell Lane, JD Buckridge, Toby Teeter, Erin Slifka and Ashton Chapman.

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