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Arnulfo Zendejas acquainted the 1 Million Cups audience with his Az's Salsa.

The Hatch teams with 1 Million Cups to help start-ups grow

1-Million-Cups_logo_rgbBy TED CARTER

Momentum for increased networking among Mississippi’s entrepreneurs and their supporters is growing one cup of coffee at a time in midtown Jackson.

Central to the push is the Hub, an initiative by Jackson non-profit community enhancement organization Midtown Partners to support start-up businesses housed in incubators The Hatch and The Hangar.

The Hatch at 126 Keener Ave. just off West Street is in its infancy, with only a single tenant so far – Mississippi Cold Drip Coffee and Tea Company – for the 11,000 square-foot building. Its older sister incubator, the two-story, 15,000 square-foot Hangar at 140 Wesley Ave., is home to several artist studios and an entrepreneur who converts pallets into various products.

Work on The Hangar began in 2013, while the conversion of The Hatch from a vacant warehouse to early-stage start-up incubator did not begin until a year later, said Whitney Grant, an entrepreneur with an architectural degree who runs The Hub for Midtown Partners.

“Once we stabilized there, we went back to working on The Hatch,” Grant said.

At the urging of the Mississippi Development Authority, Grant applied to the Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups organization in Kansas City, Mo., to make Jackson a 1 Million Cups city.

Jackson in November became the 63rd city to receive the designation. “It costs us nothing to be able to do this, just a place and the coffee,” Grant said.

Since adding Jackson, 1 Million Cups has gone on to expand to 66 cities.

One Million Cups convenes at The Hatch each Wednesday at 9 a.m. Two start-up entrepreneurs are invited to present their product or service during the hour-long gathering.

Tasha Bibb, entrepreneurial development manager for Innovate Mississippi, attends each week. “I think it’s a really good opportunity for all types of companies,” she said. “First of all, you get some practice pitching your ideas and you get feedback. I have seen some people make really good connections at 1 Million Cups they otherwise would not.”

For Arnulfo Zendejas, salsa and chips (along with plenty of bottled water) proved a winning combination at his May 13 presentation to a dozen or so people who turned out for 1 Million Cups.

A native of the Southwestern Mexico province of Michoacán who came to the states a couple decades ago at 16, Zendejas has recreated the salsa recipe he loved as a youngster and is working to build a market for it in Mississippi and beyond. Presenting to the business organization gave Zendejas an opportunity to promote his homemade salsa as well as chance to hear suggestions from others who have launched start-ups.

So far, the full-time forester has filled about 500 mason jars with the salsa he and his daughters created from tomatoes, jalapenos and various other peppers. He hopes to see the salsa sold at farmers markets and grocery stores across Mississippi.

“It’s something unique that you can’t find everywhere,” he said in his presentation.

Joining Zendejas was Israel Martinez, founder of torshel, a storm shelter and safe room company the native of Mexico founded after huddling with his family in Jackson during the series of tornadoes that passed through in April 2014. “They were scared and I was, too,” Martinez says in telling the torshel story on his Website.

“At that moment, I realized that I could dig a hole and create a tornado shelter.”

And he discovered he could do it a cost below buying a pre-built one, he said.

Today, he sells the below-ground re-enforced shelters starting at $3,950. Depending on the size of the shelters, they can accommodate from six to 26 people, said Martinez, who also owns Kismar Computer Services and Lingofest Language Center.

The Kauffman Foundation began 1 Million Cups in Kansas City in 2012 under the slogan “Caffeinating an Entrepreneurial Nation.” The idea is to have the founders of early-stage start-ups present their companies to an audience of mentors, advisers and entrepreneurs. The six-minute presentation is followed by a 20-minute Q&A with the audience.

It is all “based on the notion that entrepreneurs discover solutions and network over a million cups of coffee,” the organization says on its website.

The obligation of the presenter, the organization says, is to be “open and honest about their businesses and the challenges they face.”

Along with Whitney Grant, the Jackson 1 Million Cups is led by Matthew McLaughlin of Baker Donelson; Patty Patterson of Repurposed Projects; and Curtis Upkins III of the Hinds County Economic Development Authority.

McLaughlin said upon Jackson’s acceptance as a 1 Million Cups Community: “This platform is going to fill a significant void in our entrepreneurial ecosystem and our community.”

For Grant, the arrival of 1 Million Cups gave her a way to mix two of her favorite things: “drinking coffee and exploring ways our innovation can take their ideas to the next level.”

 

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About Ted Carter

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