Chamber to bring national pitch program for entrepreneurs to Indy

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The Indy Chamber is bringing a national program for entrepreneurs to Indianapolis, featuring weekly events with elements of pitch contests that the group hopes will be a forum for small business owners of different stripes to share stories and collaborate. 

The program is called 1 Million Cups. It was started by the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City in 2012 but is now in more than 100 cities. The Indianapolis chapter, coordinated by the Chamber, will debut Wednesday morning at The Speak Easy south of Broad Ripple at 5255 Winthrop Ave.

Two companies—graphic T-shirt operation Brand of Sisters Society and water-testing startup 120WaterAudit—will be pitching at the hour-long event.

The Indy area plays host to a handful of regular pitch events, including Verge and PitchFeast, in which entrepreneurs float their business ideas and field questions. Chamber officials expect to see some pitcher overlap with those events, but 1 Million Cups will offer a slightly different experience: It's free, it's open to firms of all phases of development, and the purpose goes beyond simply pitching one's company.

"It's not competitive," said Susanna Taft, economic development program coordinator for the Chamber, who's overseeing the program. "It's supportive and inclusive and our focus is on education. It's a time when entrepreneurs can be really candid and get up there and say, 'This is what I'm struggling with.'"

Besides tech startups, officials expect the event to attract makers, artisans, designers and even mainstream outfits with new ideas.

The Speak Easy will be the home base for the program, but Taft expects it travel to other venues across the region as well.

The 1 Million Cups effort is debuting simultaneously with another Chamber initiative called the Resource Navigator. It's an online directory of free or low-cost business resources related to business plan development, operational assistance, financial management and more from public-sector and private-sector organizations.

Indy Chamber CEO Michael Huber said the organization's goal with the portal is to "provide as exhaustive a list as possible to all the resources in the metro and … to continuously refresh it." 

Both initiatives started taking shape earlier this year in response to increasing business demand for physical and virtual forums to connect with resources, Chamber leaders said.

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