When Aaron Hoffman heard the idea for 1 Million Cups from its co-founder, Nate Olson, he jumped at the chance to bring the event to Des Moines.

“As soon as he told me about it, I thought, ‘Des Moines needs something like this,” said Hoffman, whose day job is helping run StoneFinch LLC, a company that helps businesses build software. 

The 1 Million Cups program encompasses weekly gatherings for entrepreneurs around the country that Olson, a specialist in entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, helped to start. The goal is to bring entrepreneurs together to network and hear a presentation from a local startup company – and in the process generate ideas over coffee.

The program started in Kansas City and has grown to large and small cities around the country, including Cedar Rapids, Denver and St. Louis. In every city, the meeting is from 9 to 10 a.m. Wednesdays.

Des Moines was the second city to come on board, said Hoffman, who is now one of the Des Moines event’s organizers along with Brad Bach, a personal and business financial consultant for Principal Financial Group Inc., and Kaylee Williams, a community builder for startups Hatchlings and VolunteerLocal.

Since November, Des Moines entrepreneurs have gathered each week at Green Grounds Cafe in Valley Junction to hear a different entrepreneur present. Following the presentation, audience members ask questions and give feedback.

The companies aren’t giving an investor pitch, Hoffman said. The purpose of their presentations is simply to educate and interact with other entrepreneurs.

“The people in the audience have so many different experiences and come from so many different backgrounds that you never quite know the angle that somebody is going to take, or the insight that one person would have over another,” Hoffman said.

He likens the experience to attending the Thinc Iowa conference previously hosted by Silicon Prairie News, which brought in speakers to talk to people in the technology field. That conference left Hoffman feeling “reinvigorated,” but the enthusiasm would die down after a few weeks.

“This is kind of a way to keep that encouragement going,” he said.

The first 1 Million Cups event in Des Moines brought in 12 attendees, and attendance has now grown to between 30 and 40 people weekly. 

Hoffman would like to see more people in established businesses attend, especially from companies that provide support for entrepreneurs. He encourages people to take an hour off work to get a flavor of the event.