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Entrepreneur group to host special event; Lawrence tech startup garners $750K in funding; update on Lawrence Beer Company

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It is tough to type with these eclipse glasses on, so this will be a news and notes version of Town Talk. On the plus side, I’ve already found a use for my eclipse glasses after today. They’ll be great for reading the president’s Twitter account. (Before the partisan howls begin, I pretty much feel that way about all Twitter accounts.)

• Usually when there is a Lawrence event involving a million cups, you can safely bet they are red Solo cups. That’s not the case this time.

I’m sure some of you have heard of the group 1 Million Cups. It is an entrepreneurial organization founded by the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. It brings people together every week over cups of coffee to learn about new business startups and other such matters.

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If you haven’t heard about the group, local organizers are hoping that soon changes. The organization is set to celebrate its fourth anniversary in Lawrence later this week. The events take place at 9 a.m. each Wednesday at the Cider Gallery in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District.

This Wednesday’s event will be the organization’s special anniversary celebration. City Manager Tom Markus will be the featured speaker. He’ll speak about small business and economic development efforts in the city. And importantly, in addition to coffee there will be some pastries too. As usual, the event is open to all and is free to attend.

Normally the event doesn’t feature City Hall-types but rather business owners talking about their businesses. Traditionally the group focuses on startup companies, but the organization is considering opening the presentations up to more established businesses too.

One reason is because the organizers have begun to run out of Lawrence-based startups to feature, Zach Dodson, a local real estate agent who helps organize the events, told me. Some of the past presentations have featured businesses from Kansas City or the broader area. I get the sense that organizers are trying to give the program a boost as it enters its fifth year in Lawrence.

Dodson told me he and other organizers believe the 1 Million Cups program plays an important role in economic development efforts. One of the items the community seems to agree upon is that we want to become a place where high-tech startups thrive. Groups like 1 Million Cups provide a valuable resource in that they give new entrepreneurs a chance to present their ideas, get constructive feedback from other entrepreneurs and perhaps make some connections with potential investors.

You can see the organization’s upcoming schedule, and apply to be a presenter, at 1millioncups.com/lawrence.

The national 1 Million Cups organization, by the way, is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. After starting in Kansas City in 2012, it now is in more than 100 communities spread across about 40 states.


• While we are talking about startups and events in the Cider Gallery, I actually have an update on a technology startup that is based in the Cider Gallery’s business incubator space. The Internet advertising company Bixy has had several big developments in recent months.

The company has secured its initial goal of $750,000 in venture capital. Since the last time I reported on the company, it also has come up with a new slogan. It is billing itself as the first “me commerce company.”

If you have forgotten, Bixy is a company that aims to make Internet advertising less creepy. Hopefully you all have figured out that Google knows more about you than you know about yourself, which allows it to place all types of “targeted” internet ads on sites you visit. That is why when you accidentally google Rogaine you are consigned to seeing advertisements featuring bushy-haired men for the rest of your life.

Bixy’s business model focuses on getting internet users to voluntarily disclose what products and services they are interested in. The company provides some incentives, in the form of product discounts and other such savings, to get people to sign up. The end result is that companies will still target you online, but hopefully they will be companies you are more interested in.

Bixy, which we started writing about more than two years ago, does seem to be getting some traction in the startup world. But Lawrence resident and founder Kyle Johnson is an interesting fellow to talk to about the hurdles local tech companies face in getting started in Lawrence. After listening to him, you get a better understanding of why many of them leave Lawrence for more traditional technology hubs.

“For the first three to five years, most founders in the Midwest have no idea what they are doing,” Johnson said. “It is like trying to solve a 20-faced Rubik's Cube. In Silicon Valley the capital is there to hire people to help you solve those problems. It costs more, but you move a heck of a lot faster.”

How much faster?

“It takes maybe 12 to 18 months to get a minimally viable product in Silicon Valley,” he said. “In the Midwest, it may take three to five years.”

If Lawrence wants to become a true tech hub, figuring out how to address that time problem would be something that would give Lawrence a real competitive advantage over other Midwest communities.

Johnson said the community’s not quite there, but he wants to work with others on those types of issues. He said more mentors are needed in the community, and figuring out a way to give promising entrepreneurs a stipend, or some financial means, for them to work on their projects could be important too.

“I would say there are still a lot more things we need for high growth startups,” Johnson said. “They are very unique animals.”

As for what’s next for Bixy, Johnson said he hopes to expand into the Denver market sometime next year. Currently, the company is working with advertisers only in the Kansas City and Lawrence markets. An even bigger goal is to get more large-scale investors in the project. Johnson said the company hasn’t announced any plans for its next round of funding, but he said such rounds generally are in the $2 million to $10 million range.

That is another point at which tech companies sometimes leave Lawrence, but Johnson said Bixy has no plans to leave Lawrence. The company now has five full-time employees, about 10 part-time employees and several contractors.


• While I’m passing along news from the Warehouse Arts District, expect the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street to be closed from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday. The Lawrence Beer Company will be hosting a grand opening block party on the street.

We’ve written about the Lawrence Beer Company several times before. It is going into a renovated warehouse building at 826 Pennsylvania St. The project also involves adding two stories to the old Seed Co. building to house apartments.

Area residents will get a look at the beer offerings, and perhaps just as importantly, the food offerings of the brew pub. As we reported earlier this year, Ken Baker, the founder of the former upscale Lawrence restaurant Pachamamas, joined the project and is in charge of all the food offerings.

The event also will feature a concert by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. However, don’t be confused that this is one of those free street concert events that are becoming more popular in Lawrence. Tickets to the Bosstones are $10, according to The Lawrence Beer Company’s website.

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