Entrepreneurs in Westminster will have a new weekly session to share and learn about building companies next month.
A team organized by Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC) is bringing a new branch of the Kauffman Foundation-created support network 1 Million Cups (1MC) to the Carroll County city.
Under the model, the weekly meetings on Wednesdays include presentations from two entrepreneurs, who can then get feedback from the group.
“The main function of this is for the community to ask those entrepreneurs how they can help,” said Graham Dodge, executive director of MAGIC, the nonprofit working to spur tech and entrepreneurship growth in Westminster. “It’s not a pitch, it’s not a networking event. It’s more about, how can the community come together to support these small businesses and startups.”
1 Million Cups is an initiative of the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation, which provides resources to help with the series. Dodge said he was inspired in bringing it to the city by TechBreakfast events that Dodge attended for several years in the Baltimore area, where he founded social illness-tracking startup Sickweather. While living in Kansas City before his current role, he saw the benefits of the Kauffman Foundation’s work to spur entrepreneurs. It took about a year of working with the foundation to launch the chapter, Dodge said, and he’s joined by an organizing team of seven people. Meetings will start virtually as a result of the pandemic, but will then plan to transition to in-person meetings once safety allows.
For 1MC, it’s key that it’s run “for the community, by the community,” said Kim Wallace Carlson, the foundation’s director of engagement and entrepreneurship.
“The program comes to life in places that have committed organizers, entrepreneurs who are willing to share, and community members who are ready to support, encourage and provide helpful feedback,” Carlson said. “1MC Westminster will help create a new opportunity in Maryland where all types of entrepreneurs can connect and learn from their community.”
The Westminster chapter will be the only one in Maryland, with the closest being in D.C. and Vienna, Virginia. And it’s one of two nationwide that were approved for launch since the onset of the pandemic.
The city has companies that compete at events like the Carroll Biz Challenge, McDaniel College alums starting their own firms, and new companies spinning out of government contractors. Dodge said 1MC can be the kind of central node for leaders of budding businesses to learn about what each other is up to that many strong communities have, and can also serve Central Maryland as a whole. Organizers see 1MC as a resource both for entrepreneurs building in Westminster, and folks who might be commuting to D.C. or Baltimore.
“The larger opportunity is that this will put us on a circuit with bringing entrepreneurs from D.C. and Vienna, and have those entrepreneurs participate and be exposed to the Westminster entrepreneurship community, which is small but growing,” Dodge said.
It follows a recent USDA grant to MAGIC to spur cyber jobs through a pipeline that starts with Capture the Flag tournaments and runs through training programs.
The resources coming to Westminster follow the city’s investment in its own fiber network, which finished construction last year and is now available to homes and businesses in the city of about 18,500 people. It was a move made with an eye toward future economic development as well as increasing network speeds. Signups that make the switch from other providers are trending up amid more demand for fast internet and an emphasis from some on buying local, but the shift isn’t all happening at once, said Val Giovagnoni, a member of the 1MC organizing team and city manager for fiber network ISP Ting Internet.
Yet the ecosystem activity being springing up shows that “fiber is really transformative for communities and businesses,” she said. “Westminster made an incredible investment in the future success of the town that makes way for commerce and innovation.”
Fiber’s ability to spur such community has played out in other cities. Dodge saw it while living for a time in Kansas City, which was the first city where Google Fiber lit up in 2011. In Westminster, MAGIC formed to expand tech and economic opportunity around the community, and now resources like 1MC show that while it isn’t bringing change overnight, the infrastructure is spurring more groundwork to be laid for growth.
“If it wasn’t for the effort and investment in bringing that gigabit fiber to Westminster, none of this would exist,” Dodge said.
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