As a recent college graduate and being fairly new to Winston-Salem, I had heard the name Venture Café many times. Its programming is well-known for connecting innovators and entrepreneurs. I was very curious about the Thursday Gatherings, but also a bit apprehensive as a “newbie.” After attending my first Venture Café, I now understand why people go back week after week.
Here are five pieces of advice for first-time Venture Café goers:
The registration tables are right outside of Turbine Hall on the second floor of Bailey Power Plant. There are tablets sitting on high-top tables that require your name and email address and print out a name tag with the number of times you’ve been. This is also where you get your 21-and-older wristband for three free drinks.
You never know who you’ll meet. The beauty of Thursday Gatherings is that you do not have to be the CEO of a large company to attend—but you could meet a CEO there. I met an artist, an author, a substitute teacher, a Wake Forest University professor and a fellow college graduate all in one night. First impressions are everything, so dress to impress.
Venture Café is like a mini-conference every night, with workshops and sessions usually centered around a weekly theme. Sessions can range from presentations to panels to workshops and are all idea-driven by community members. Events run from 6 to 8 pm. There are anywhere from two to four programs going on simultaneously during each hour, so you’ll need to pick. Each program event lasts an hour.
Although Venture Café begins with community building at 5 pm, people should feel free to come when they can and leave early if needed. I noticed that people came and went as they pleased and tailored their evenings to what worked with their schedules. This casual vibe is inviting and helps you feel at ease with jumping in and participating.
Because your name badge includes the number of times you’ve visited, it can become a popular topic of conversation. Regular Venture Café goers came up to introduce themselves and ask me about who I am and what I do. They also introduced me to their friends and colleagues. People weren’t just interested in what I do as my job; they were interested in my hobbies, where I want to travel and my aspirations beyond my career goals. Everyone was genuinely friendly and helpful; I felt like I fit right in.
Christina Rucinski is a freelance marketing and communications professional who works in downtown Winston-Salem. Her first Venture Café experience was on January 24, 2019.