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Venture Cafe Director Seeks ‘Serendipitous Collisions’ Between St. Louis Innovators, Resources

Venture Cafe is not a typical cafe. Visitors will find coffee, beer and wine, but replace the typical pastries with entrepreneurs.

“I talk about serendipitous collisions,” Venture Cafe’s executive director Travis Sheridan told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh on Tuesday. “It’s about getting the right people at the right place at the right time, and then miraculously the right things happen.”

Venture Cafe helps match innovators and resources in the St. Louis area. The nonprofit sponsors gatherings each Thursday to help create those serendipitous collisions. Those weekly events feature five of six breakout groups, and it’s not unusual for more than 200 people to attend, Sheridan said.

“It’s not geared to just the lightbulb moment,” Sheridan said. “It’s for those who have actually taken a lightbulb to market and know how to do something with it so they can learn something from each other.

“They’re people that are interested in the innovation space, like biotechnologists and traditional entrepreneurs, but we also get educators, people from the arts community, people from the nonprofit sector and they’re all having these very meaningful conversations. People leave feeling like they’re one step closer to achieving their goal.”

Venture Cafe started four years ago in Cambridge, Mass., as a way to build innovation and connect communities. St. Louis is the first Venture Cafe outside of the Boston area.

Sheridan moved to St. Louis three years ago from California, which he said is “a lot of smoke and mirrors. Smoke due to wildfire; mirrors due to vanity from Southern California, I guess. California is very expensive. I don’t like to ever say that St. Louis is inexpensive or cheap, but I do say that St. Louis is capital efficient. St. Louis is one of these places where if you want to roll up your sleeves and get stuff done, you absolutely can.”

While Venture Cafe often skews toward tech sector people, Sheridan said there’s room for everyone, from artists to scientists to government workers.

“The arts can teach us about creativity, innovation, risk, failure, all these things,” he said. “What has been great is seeing technology people talking to the nonprofit folks. Or, more importantly, seeing the technology people talking to the government people.

“We use the word entrepreneur a lot, but in the north side of St. Louis where I live, they use the word hustler. It means the exact same thing: People are trying to improve their station in life through some creative means. We just want them to all use their powers for good.”

Venture Cafe Gatherings are held from 3 to 8 p.m. Thursdays at 4240 Duncan Ave., Suite 200, St. Louis.

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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