Taking the Show on the Road: Virtually

The 1 Million Cups movement in Mankato had big plans for their second year in southern Minnesota: they wanted to take 1MC “On the Road” (OTR) in 2020, expanding their reach and their resources. Normally at 1MC meetings, the room is full of community business leaders ready to mentor presenters just starting a business. 2020 started off promising for the On the Road team, but then March arrived and so did, of course, COVID.

“Like most in-person meeting formats, with COVID, we had to switch to a Zoom format,” explains 1MC organizer Gary Schott. “Not only did we as organizers have to learn how to navigate it, but also our presenters and participants did too. At early Zoom meetings, we would spend time helping participants get familiar with the Zoom features. For the OTR presenters, we would check their background with using Zoom and schedule practice meetings with them prior to presenting. Those run throughs were very beneficial.”

In 2020, On The Road reached the communities of Waseca, St. Peter, Montgomery, New Ulm, and Springfield.

“For the communities, it was disappointing to lose the opportunity to gather local people to hear and support their entrepreneurs. The local excitement, energy and connection for the presenters were diminished; however, Zoom actually made it easier for the presenters. They could present from their own businesses. In some cases, it allowed them to give a video tour of their business. In addition, Zoom meetings helped to broaden the audience that the presenter could connect with. The entrepreneurs consistently received feedback from a range of people from different communities,” says Schott.

With an average of 30 attendees at each virtual meeting, Schott and the other organizers did have some key take aways from their inaugural year on the road.

“Strong, cooperative partners at our participating communities were really key to having a successful OTR. Those individuals were important in finding the community’s entrepreneurs and getting them to agree to present. In addition, their efforts to promote the event were valued,” says Schott.

Relationships the 1MC crew hopes will carry on into the future.

“We are hopeful that all of the communities who partnered with us in year one will return. In addition, we will add new towns. Several had interest this year, but postponed joining in during COVID. Albert Lea recently reached out and expressed interest to get involved,” he says.

The 1MC team has some definite goals for year two of On The Road.

“Hopefully, sometime during the year, we can return to an in-person format; however, if not, we will work to improve the “Zoom OTR Production,” says Schott. “Perhaps have more tours of businesses; host COVID safe Zoom nodes for multiple people to attend at one spot, sort of a hybrid model.

“We would also like to have a panel of economic development representatives from our OTR communities share what they are doing to support their entrepreneurs.”
Schott also says in the future they hope to recruit a more diverse group of entrepreneurs to better represent the range of business owners in our region.

“There are many interesting entrepreneurs around our region doing neat things. Stories of how they had to pivot during the pandemic were especially impactful and motivating to others,” he says.

Stories that have an impact not only in Mankato, where 1MC started in our region, but stories that have a far reaching impact.

“The responses to the OTR Initiative further confirmed the commitment in our region to support the growth and success of our entrepreneurs,” Schott reflects. “First, OTR helps to demonstrate that 1MC is a regional initiative. It is not just about Mankato/North Mankato. With our region being one of the Launch Minnesota hubs, that is very important. 1MC is a very impactful and effective way to build entrepreneurial connections in our region.”

Join 1MC Mankato at 8:30 am, via Zoom, every Wednesday morning. The link each week is posted on facebook.com/1mcmankato/.

Lisa Cownie

Editor of Connect Business Magazine