I've spent over 25 Thanksgivings at the home of my Aunt Barb and Uncle LaVone. I even scheduled a flight home from Ireland to arrive just 36 hours before Thanksgiving in 2013, because I didn't want to miss it.
My Uncle LaVone would welcome everyone and anyone at Thanksgiving dinner, but in a loud and outspoken manner. Always quirky, telling jokes, asking to-the-point questions, yelling for the sake of it, and caring.
Every chance I've had while visiting back in Southeastern Iowa, I've made it a point to swing by their house. Being family-oriented, genuine people helps attract those in search of good company.
A few months ago, my Uncle LaVone's mobility drastically slowed down. Over the past couple months, health concerns began to pile up, ultimately leading to an out-of-the-blue diagnosis of bone cancer. It was inoperable, and had spread all throughout his body and into his brain.
Over the following days, I noticed the emotion of anger come over me, and my frustrations piqued one morning. I went straight to the boxing gym, put on my hand wraps and gloves, and began hitting the heavy bags. Over and over, with no timers set. I was furious that cancer had its grips on another loved one. I only stopped hitting the bag when my left hand started to go numb.
Afterwards I left and slowly walked back to my apartment. I then sat in silence and finally accepted the news. I embraced it, and began to critically think about the coming days, and how my Uncle wouldn't be a host at Thanksgiving this year.
Boxing, biking, running with Mikayla, and obsessively and relentlessly working have kept my anxiety at bay, but I've been dreading a phone call over the past couple weeks.
Since the acceptance, every night's prayers began with asking for my Uncle LaVone to be blessed with courage and strength.
Tonight I received that phone call. My uncle's time with us here is over. Now, we only have memories, and I know we're all holding onto them tighter tonight.
My heart has been heavy over the past few hours, with a sinking feeling of everything slowing down to seconds. My emotions have been back and forth like a pendulum.
On a late walk tonight with Mikayla, I couldn't help but stare directly up into the night sky. I was quietly reminding myself just how small but significant humans can be.
My last visit with my uncle was just about a month ago.
Ever since I can remember, he's called me Clay Cadoodlehopper.
I began and ended our visit with a hug.
Staring at each other as I prepared to leave, I said, "I love you, Unc."
He quickly replied with, "I love you, Clay."
There were no goodbyes.
I am blessed to have known the man, and to have a perfect ending memory with him.
In late 2015, I was deep into research, flurrying through both Irish and US startup ecosystem framework. I had repeatedly come across Kauffman Foundation resources. I had also read up on 1 Million Cups, and I told myself that I had to attend one, somewhere, beginning in 2016.
"1 Million Cups is a free, national program designed to educate, engage, and connect entrepreneurs. Developed by the Kauffman Foundation, 1MC is based on the notion that entrepreneurs discover solutions and network over a million cups of coffee."
Roughly 100 hours into 2016, I was chatting with Ben McDougal, emcee of 1 Million Cups Des Moines. His encouragement helped KinoSol to go through the quick registration process, and before we knew it, we were presenting a week later.
With roughly 40 people attending, we were able to pitch to an audience that included both beginning and veteran entrepreneurs, investors, educators, community builders, and connectors, from various locations. We received valuable feedback, and ultimately made connections that led to new partnerships.
Elise, Myself, Mikayla, Ella - a quick mango pose
After attending a 1 Million Cups, we were anxious to make it back as often as possible.
Leading up to Young Entrepreneur Convention, I knew the YEC team should present. Sure enough, April came around, and we were able to present on the week of YEC.
Everything went well, as the YEC vision and details were delivered to almost 50 people; some of whom committed to going, later that day.
Pete, Myself, Chris, Amanda, Brandon - 5 of the 7 founders, all ready for a BIG week
That was our final push to get people to join the movement, for the first-ever Young Entrepreneur Convention. YEC set the bar high. We're the largest entrepreneurial convention in Iowa for 2016, and we're happy that we could deliver value to attendees from all over the world.
A closer look at the YEC stats
After 2 successful 1MC presentations, I was ready for more. KinoSol is always ready. The awesome community builders and startup enthusiasts in Eastern Iowa shared and nudged us about presenting at 1 Million Cups Iowa City/Cedar Rapids. So we did.
Just as the semester at Iowa State University came to a close, we got on the road at 6 am on a Wednesday morning, and drove straight to downtown Iowa City. The atmosphere was different and awesome. It was an entirely new group of people wanting to hear KinoSol's story, ask questions, provide thoughts, connections, and insights. We absorbed everything, built up more support, and made sure to toss out a few KinoSol t shirts before getting back on the road.
Elise, Mikayla, Ella, Myself - answering questions from an entirely new crowd
Back in December of 2015, I had no idea what to expect from a 1 Million Cups.
But, coming from a 3-and-half-year career in online poker, I know that sample size helps paint a clear picture of how you're really doing (especially after you play close to 40,000 online tournaments).
So the way I see it, the more 1 Million Cups you can get to, and present at, the better chance you're going to have of validating your startup in its earlier stages.
In closing, it should be noted that it's okay if you don't drink coffee. I haven't had a caffeinated beverage since February 13 of 2009. They don't discriminate.
Get out there. Find YOUR 1 Million Cups!
STARTUPS - TRAVEL - EXPERIENCES