The Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) has entered the third year of its partnership with 1 Million Cups, a free nationwide program begun in 2012 by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation that convenes on the first Wednesday of every month. Designed to help entrepreneurs network and develop their ideas, the program has enabled over 80 local entrepreneurs to present their plans and obtain valuable feedback. DLBA checked in with some 1 Million Cups (1MC) Alumni to see how the program helped them.

Dr. Mark Chavez demonstrates his product, Gravity Ball.

A common thread among the entrepreneurs who participated in the program is their appreciation of the networking and feedback opportunities it provided. Dr. Mark Chavez, who presented Gravity Ball, a start up named for the all-in-one exercise device it produces, elaborated: “We heard about 1MC during our work with the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) during the Innovation Challenge, an annual business plan competition in which we were one of the finalists,” said Chavez.

“The main takeaway we got from 1MC is the importance of developing relationships and community,” Chavez reflected. “Programs like 1MC help bring business owners and entrepreneurs together to support each other and offer knowledge, experience, and support for the business community at large.”

CTO Vijay Mohan and CEO Ossie Cohen of Pickl

Ossie Cohen, co-founder of the app-based platform PICKL, heard about 1MC from Austin Metoyer, DLBA’s Economic Development and Policy Manager. Cohen, whose app, PICKL, pays shoppers to report product inventories by using their smartphones, shared Chavez’s thoughts about the networking potential of the program. “1MC was the first time I ever spoke about PICKL in front of an audience,” he said. “It was great to get organic responses to see what people from various sectors say. 1MC is an awesome way to speak and share about your company while getting raw feedback.”

Feedback at 1MC helped entrepreneur Jayro Sandoval refine the marketing approach for Big City Pomade, his line of handcrafted natural grooming products for men and women. “I could not find an affordable, healthy, natural alternative to hair products,” said Sandoval. “Most products off the shelf were either cheaply made with a ton of toxins, or natural or organic at a high-end price. It was great getting feedback at 1MC from new entrepreneurs and professionals who had my best interests in mind.”

Jayro Sandoval, creator of Big City Pomade, cuts the ribbon on his product display at MADE by Millworks.

Sandoval is currently selling Big City Pomade at MADE by Millworks on Pine Avenue, where he held his launch party last year. He encouraged other entrepreneurs to get involved with 1MC. “Do it!” he said. “Building your network and making connections is important. You never know who you will meet that can help you get to the next step. I am always looking to connect with someone that I can bounce ideas with.”

1MC welcomes all kinds of ideas. Steve Sutton is the creator of the TransparentSea sustainable shrimp farm, which now operates out of Downey. Sutton, who will begin taking his urban-farmed shrimp to market in May, was grateful to find a welcoming audience at 1MC. “I am impressed with how welcoming 1MC is to all types of entrepreneurs,” he said. “Whether your business concept is non-profit, for-profit, advanced or not even begun, the participants in 1MC will give honest feedback to try to identify your goals and get you moving toward them.

Steve Sutton, creator of the TransparentSea sustainable shrimp farm.

“Treat the 1MC audience as if they were your biggest potential investors,” advised Sutton. “It’s a great opportunity to work your pitch and maybe even get some customer discovery going. 1MC is a hidden gem. The more you put into the presentation,the more this wonderful group will be able to help you almost on the spot.”

Justin Wheeler, creator of Funraise, an online fundraising app, mentioned that there was a silver lining for his company in the pandemic. “1MC prepared us for the broader online outreach that the ‘virtualness’ of the pandemic brought,” he said. “We’re always hoping that our engagement with our community helps others; It was never really about Funraise’s needs, but more about small businesses and entrepreneurs here in Long Beach. Meeting our neighbors in Downtown Long Beach, better understanding their needs, and becoming equipped to operate during the pandemic are all benefits we’ve seen from 1MC.”

Visit 1 Million Cups to learn more about the program and schedule a presentation. “I highly recommend 1MC to all local entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Chavez. “It is a great opportunity to network, make friends, find business partners, contribute value to the community, and to make long-lasting relationships that are truly valuable.”