After pandemic pause, Venture Cafe returns to Cortex

March 27, 2022

For the first time in more than two years, Venture Cafe St. Louis will be back on Thursdays at the Cortex innovation district with its popular programming.

Venture Cafe St. Louis is making its return.

For the first time in more than two years, Venture Cafe St. Louis will be back on Thursdays at the Cortex innovation district with its popular programming. Its return comes after the organization last year suspended its programming, which had shifted online during the Covid-19 pandemic, amid a leadership change at the organization.

A staple of the local startup ecosystem, Venture Cafe St. Louis provides programming and networking for entrepreneurs and community members. It is known for its weekly Thursday Gathering, which is held at 4240 Duncan Ave. in the Cortex district.

Venture Cafe is returning to its Thursday events, beginning this week, with a gathering that includes programming focused on the connections between St. Louis and Canada. The Consulate General of Canada in Chicago is sponsoring this week’s event. A full schedule of Thursday’s events can be found here.

Venture Cafe St. Louis has plotted its reemergence as it has assembled a newly hired local team to run operations. The hires were made after Venture Cafe St. Louis in September 2021 announced it was temporarily suspending its programming and that the Venture Cafe Global Institute, based in the Boston area, assumed operations oversight of the organization. J.P. Johnson has been hired as director of Venture St. Louis. He replaces Tyler Mathews, who resigned his position in September 2021. In addition to Johnson, Venture Cafe St. Louis has hired Christian Savage as its event experience coordinator and Ebbi Young for the role of program experience coordinator.

As Venture Cafe St. Louis returns to Cortex, Jonson said it will have the “same Venture Cafe feel that people remember” prior to the pandemic. As in the past, the weekly events will be held on the second floor of Cortex’s 4240 building and include a mixture of structured programming and more informal opportunities to networking and socialize. It also will continue to provide complimentary beers and beverages for attendees.

“The hope is we’re able to offer new and better experiences for people to enjoy,” Johnson said. “We want to offer something to folks that they will enjoy and appreciate, given that it’s been a long time coming.”

For the first three months of its return to in-person Thursday Gatherings, Johnson said Venture Cafe plans to hold the events biweekly. In April, it plans to focus the programming around the topic of cybersecurity.

Key to Venture Cafe St. Louis’ revenue model is outside groups paying sponsorship fees to stage programming at the Thursday Gatherings. For example, Johnson said the Consulate General of Canada is paying a sponsorship fee for this week’s events. However, Johnson said some Thursdays could emphasize Venture Cafe’s networking and socializing opportunities more so than structured programming.

“It won’t always be about the programming and it won’t always be about the (programming) quantity. It will be about quality,” he said.

Longer term, Johnson said he hopes the themes and topics included in Venture Cafe St. Louis’ programming will be shaped with the help of its attendees to include events and activities that are beneficial to them. He said Venture Cafe also will look to stage programming in areas where St. Louis is focused on achieving growth, such as life sciences and geospatial technology, as well as topics such as diversity, equity and inclusion, where the region is trying to broaden the range of individuals who are part of the local startup economy.

“Certainly we want to play a role in fostering those ideas and turn those ideas into impactful activities and have those activities actually reach communities that typically were not necessarily provided the proper access and inclusion to be part of said community,” Johnson said.

As it returns to in-person events, Venture Cafe St. Louis will take safety precautions to ensure its sustainability during the pandemic, Johnson said. To that end, it will require attendance to show digital or hard copy proof of Covid-19 vaccination to attend its events.

Nathan Rubbelke
Editor, St. Louis Inno