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Profile: Nate Olson of the Kauffman Foundation

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Kyle Geary — The Hale Center For Journalism

Nate Olson works for the Kauffman Foundation and is the co-creator of 1 Million Cups, where he manages the growth and direction of the program. 1 Million Cups is the quickly expanding morning meet up for entrepreneurs in cities across the nation.

Who is Nate Olson?

“I’m 24 years old. I love to play the guitar, ride my bike and cook. I’m constantly collaborating with people, trying to learn as much as I can and connecting the dots between people and places.”

1 Million Cups is big in the entrepreneurial world. What role did you play in its founding, and what do you do today?

“When I was hired at the Kauffman Foundation in February 2012, I was assigned to Kansas City entrepreneurship along with my former colleague Cameron Cushman. Really our job was to create the greatest amount of value for the greatest amount of entrepreneurs in our community. As we started to explore how we could do that, we quickly realized that we had no idea who the entrepreneurs were in the community. How do you serve entrepreneurs if you have no idea who is starting companies?

1 Million Cups really started as an experiment to try and solve that problem and to educate entrepreneurs along the way. We lucked out. We had no idea that it would grow as big as it is now. As the program started to grow, I became the person to lead the program in its growth effort, but it has really taken an entire team of Kauffman associates, 110 volunteers across the country and close advisors to grow the program to 31 cities.

I’m still leading the future of the program full-time. As many founders know, every day can be different. I enjoy spending my time coaching cities who want to start 1 Million Cups, speaking to communities on the importance of supporting entrepreneurs and trying to solve unique community issues through innovative ideas.”

What brought you to this field?

“It just kind of happened, honestly.”

What is the biggest problem and/or challenge in your line of work?

“I think the greatest challenge is remaining relevant. It is hard to know how long 1 Million Cups will continue to serve our communities in its original capacity. Like any venture, we will adapt as needed and take opportunities as they come. It is certainly difficult to plan long-term though. For now, we’re just enjoying the ride!”

What is the best part of your work?

“The best part of my work is the team I work with at the Kauffman Foundation and the community organizers we work with across the country. I am privileged to work and serve alongside some of the most passionate, selfless and intelligent individuals in the country.”

What do you see in the future for Kansas City entrepreneurs?

“My hope is to see more founders reach their definition of success. For some founders that means explosive growth of their companies, for others that’s just being able to start a business and to support themselves. I want more people to see their dreams come true. Everything else will flow from that.”

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