Mark Ciborowski’s eyes grow wide as he talks about Phenix Hall. Built in 1855, the hall once served as a prominent gathering space for Concord, hosting speeches by notables like Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.
At a 1 Million Cups networking event on a weekday morning in June at The Hotel Concord, Ciborowski shared the building’s history with a standing-only room of eager business men and women. “The Phenix held political events, parties, plays, dances and concerts. It was a social and cultural hub for the region,” he said.
The building suffered a massive fire in 1893 and was rebuilt, but after a second fire in 1956 it fell into disrepair and has seen limited use since. Ciborowski owns several rental properties in Concord but restoring the Phenix is especially meaningful for him because he said it’s an example of impact investing—a kind of business that generates positive social and environmental impact.
“We want to host weddings and town halls. There’s going to be a restaurant, a full bar and live music,” Ciborowski said to the audience. “I feel a sense of obligation to bring this space back for the community of Concord; it truly is like a phoenix rising from the ashes. My challenge is: how do I pay for this?”
Hands shot up in the air with ideas. He could seek financing through select, local investors with a modest interest rate. He could create a Limited Liability Company (L3C). One attendee offered to create an overview video of the project to show potential financers. The room buzzed with excitement as people from a broad cross-section of industries and interests chimed in.
The exchange of ideas between Ciborowski and the audience is a key part of the national 1 Million Cups program that was created by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in 2012 to educate, engage and inspire entrepreneurs. The name stems from the belief that business ideas are shared in relaxed but inspiring settings and fueled by many cups of coffee.
A forum for ideas
UNH Cooperative Extension teamed up with Making Matters NH and NHTI to bring the national 1 Million Cups program to central New Hampshire. Each month in Concord two speakers share an overview of their respective businesses and then ask for advice from the audience regarding specific challenges. This unique and interactive format kindles conversations, encourages relationship building and promotes economic prosperity.
After Ciborowski, the crowd welcomed former Episcopal priest Hannah Anderson to the stage and gave her valuable feedback on her new business new venture that combines life coaching and art. Hannah was looking for ideas and support to refine her business focus, improve her marketing, leverage social media and network as an emerging entrepreneur.
“It’s a great way to make connections and learn about new businesses,” said James Figueira, a regional leader for Primerica, a financial services institution located in Londonderry. He has attended every 1 Million Cups event since the inaugural November 2018 kickoff—a great example of how business people are coming together to build a supportive community.
1 Million Cup events are free and open to the public, regardless of an individual’s background or experience.