Who Says There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch? Not Danny Beckett

Danny Beckett, the co-founder and chairman of Free Lunch Friday, says his concept offering startups a monthly opportunity to break bread and connect without spending any of their hard-earned cash actually started in Michigan.

Beckett, who was born and raised here, used to race motorcycles professionally, but his true passion has long been nurturing startups. “I invest in startups, advise, sit on boards,” he explains. “One day, I bought a bunch of  free food and beer—I just wanted to hang out with entrepreneurs because they’re hungry to build and do things.”

Beckett moved to California after his racing career ended and focused his attention on investing in startups such as Fundourcommunity and Think Tables. Though he kept up the practice of buying entrepreneurs food and beer for a few years, eventually it fell by the wayside. Then about a year ago, he got involved with Startup America Partnership, a national network of startup communities working to advance entrepreneurship, and eventually became California’s statewide leader of Startup America.

Beckett was happy to be taking a more active role in helping startups grow, but he wanted to do more. “I wanted to be in the trenches and building the family of entrepreneurs,” he says. “It brought Free Lunch Friday back to the surface, and I wondered, what would it look like on a global scale?”

So Beckett set off on launching Free Lunch Friday chapters from Hawaii to Boston. Every last Friday of the month, Free Lunch Friday Detroit is held at Atomic Object, the software development company downtown, and the agenda always includes networking and at least one established entrepreneur as a speaker. The Detroit chapter was one of the first to get up and running, along with Los Angeles, Orange County, and Phoenix, but Beckett expects the rest of the planned locations to launch throughout the next year.

“My grandma always said everything starts with a meal,” Beckett says in explanation of why the free lunch concept was so appealing to him. “You can come in and start building a family. It’s not about competition, it’s about collaboration. Entrepreneurs are the ones creating jobs, but who’s taking care of them so they can feel insipired?”

Each Free Lunch Friday event is limited to 100 participants, and the next Detroit event takes place April 26. Beckett says he wants to keep the gatherings intimate because he wants to go deep, not wide. Eventually, all of the speaker presentations will be filmed and housed online. Each Free Lunch Friday city has two dedicated leaders from the local entrepreneurial community to facilitate connections between participants.

Of course, reviving Free Lunch Friday in dozens of locations around the country still doesn’t seem to satisfy Beckett’s urge to help startups. He also envisions a future Free Lunch Friday University, a place for entrepreneurship classes and continuing education, as well as a future $50 million fund to invest in various startups he finds through Free Lunch Friday events. Right now, he’s testing a crowdfunding effort to raise seed money for startups in Los Angeles that he’ll roll out to other Free Lunch Friday cities if it’s successful.

In the meantime, Beckett hopes to sustain Free Lunch Friday for decades to come. “I want to roll into Free Lunch Friday when I’m 80 years old and listen to an entrepreneur pitch me,” he adds.

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