Venture Cafe forms partnership to expand programming, boost attendance

February 13, 2023

Venture Cafe St. Louis and TechSTL are teaming up to bring new programming to its weekly events.

See Correction/Clarification at end of article

Venture Cafe St. Louis has entered into a strategic partnership with local technology council TechSTL as it seeks to bolster its programming around technology and boost attendance at its weekly events.

The partnership calls for Venture Cafe and TechSTL teaming up to stage technology-focused programming each week at Venture Cafe’s gatherings in the Cortex innovation district. The partnership is solely focused on programming and does not include a financial component, the organizations said.

The partnership brings together two organizations both focused on providing programming and resources for St. Louis’ innovation and entrepreneurial communities. 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. The 4240 Duncan building is operated by the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), a global operator of innovation-focused real estate. Venture Cafe St. Louis, which in the past has operated as a nonprofit, is the programming arm of the CIC’s St. Louis operations. TechSTL, which launched in 2022 through a federal grant, is a membership-based organization looking to provide the metro with a forum to advance St. Louis’ technology and innovation sectors. By working together, the leaders of the two organizations said they will be better able to connect with their target audiences and draw them to their programming.

“Every ecosystem around the world is having to redefine how they engage their entrepreneurial community because the past few years have been game-changing,” said Emily Hemingway, executive director of TechSTL. “Combining forces is giving both TechSTL and Venture Café the capacity to meet our community where it is, so that we can chart a new course forward together.”

The biggest component of the partnership involves TechSTL anchoring Venture Cafe once per month with a new event called Collide, which will include sessions, a resource fair and demonstrations that seek to showcase technology in St. Louis. Venture Cafe and TechSTL held the first edition of Collide on Jan. 19.

“We wanted to make sure we were highlighting tech specific programming at least once a month so that we kind of go back to our roots and we stay with the trend line of new innovation,” said J.P. Johnson, director of Venture Cafe St. Louis.

In addition to Collide, TechSTL is also bringing new programs that will be held once per month at Venture Cafe, each on a different week of the month. They include FoundHER, a program for female entrepreneurs; Founders Unplugged, which includes conversations with local entrepreneurs; and TechEXP, a session that delves into trending technology topics.

Venture Cafe’s partnership with TechSTL follows its relaunch of operations in March 2022 after it suspended its programming during the pandemic and brought on new leadership, including Johnson. Venture Cafe’s weekly attendance has hovered below its pre-pandemic levels, but Johnson said it has had some of its strongest turnouts in recent months. He said Venture Cafe averaged about 125 weekly attendees last year, compared with 382 in 2019, its last full year of programming before the Covid-19 pandemic began. Venture Cafe had its best month in 2022 in November, when it drew more than 1,100 attendees across three Thursday gatherings, boosted by hosting a startup showcase for STL Startup Week and programming for Filament’s Thinksgiving event.

Johnson said Venture Cafe’s new partnership with TechSTL made sense given the groups’ shared focus and the ability to curate programming that can draw people to Venture Cafe more regularly.

“We both noticed that events in particular have had lower attendance rates, rightfully so. Covid has definitely changed human behavior from a health perspective, but also from a convenience perspective,” Johnson said. “If you don’t have to do something in person that can easily be done virtually, you might not do it.”

The partnership is part of a focus by Venture Cafe to stage its programming around weekly themes, one of which is the monthly Collide event that will be held on the third Thursday of each month. The other themes include Serendipitous Collisions, which emphasizes networking opportunities for attendees; Community Activations, which seeks to offer interactive sessions and programming; and Community & Corporate Partnerships.

Venture Cafe said its first Collide event was a success, attracting 200 attendees. Attendance has dipped the past two weeks, with 130 attending Jan. 26 and 112 this past Thursday for its Serendipitous Collisions gathering. However, Venture Cafe said last week’s attendance was up 72% from its January Serendipitous Collisions programming.

Venture Cafe St. Louis reported total revenue of $356,046 and total expenses of $829,695 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2020, according to its most recent IRS filing.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly described the organizational structure of Venture Cafe St. Louis. It is the programming arm of CIC St. Louis.
Nathan Rubbelke
Editor, St. Louis Inno
Please be aware, as of December 14th 2023, Venture Café St Louis paused its operations. You can read more in the News section below.