During one of my visits in Asheville last year I randomly discovered a group called 1 Million Cups while scrolling through the #AVL Twitter feed. The group gathers each week over coffee to hear a new speaker with a product or service they seek funding for. These items could be for consumers, industrial use, research, or a number of applications. The meetings are free and open to the public, so VCs, complementing providers, key resources, or journalists (c’est moi!) can go and look for new opportunities.
When I went to see when and where they meet so that I could coordinate my next Asheville trip around the event, I noticed they are (just about) everywhere. Not only was there one in Western North Carolina, there was one about a half hour from my home. The Research Triangle Park (RTP) chapter meets every week at the fairly new (FREE!) co-working space The Frontier.
First, The Frontier: I’ve heard about this co-working space and was curious how–when about a dozen fee-required co-working spaces opened in the Triangle last year–this model works. The Frontier is open 9-5 Monday through Friday in the heart of RTP and offers free parking, free Wi-Fi, free coffee, and free people watching. Plus, you get access to the RTP culture: Food Truck Rodeos, free exercise classes (yoga/barre, cardio, strength training) with RTP Fit, and more.
Randomly, there’s a piece of the Berlin Wall there you can see (and touch) for free.
A number of different meeting and seating arrangements fill a wide open room. High-back chair clusters for meetings that require the veil of confidentiality, lounge couches for comfy chats or true laptop laptime, a few cubes for solitary focus, and long tables and white boards for larger discussions. Free meeting rooms too. I didn’t realize the half-cube I chose (only because of the intriguing Minion-like seat, which was an exercise ball covered in upholstery) was next to a community ‘free’ table. Chocolates, cookies, and snacks others brought in to share – all free and waiting just a few feet from the free coffee.
I worked out of this space for almost two hours. I loved the buzz and energy overflowing from the room. All the movers and shakers and deal-makers gave the feeling that you were part of something big just by being there. Of course, this was my first experience in a co-working space. I was surprised how nonchalant and discourteous most of the people were with their cell phones. Instead of walking into the lobby and taking calls out there, people paced behind me, around all the tables, and in circles talking about sales strategies, numbers, manufacturing, and other work matters. This does not bother me–but I know many other people can’t concentrate in an environment like this. But, hey, it’s not like you’re paying for the space! (There are monthly office room rentals available.)
Now, back to 1 Million Cups: The presentation I attended yesterday was by Treadwell Corporation. The Wilmington-based company has developed a product that can be used in a number of healthcare applications. Their main focus is the long-term care market. The device offers a simple activity that increases muscle movement in the legs and helps minimize the risk or advancement of certain diseases. They are seeking about $100,000 in funding for two studies to gather data that would document the benefits of the product, and about $400,000 to get them to their next level.
The Q&A after the presentation tapped into several areas: Marketing, funding, alternate applications, manufacturing, and more. About three dozen people filled the room and chimed in. As a journalist, it was easy to see a number of different angles articles could be pitched. I didn’t get a chance to chat with too many of the other attendees, but I imagine their businesses might be working on projects that would make for interesting articles as well.
If you feel short on article ideas–or you are developing your own start-up–check out 1 Million Cups in your area. If you need a co-working space in the Raleigh-Durham area–check out The Frontier. And if you go on Wednesday mornings at 9AM, you can do both.