Contributor Program Announcement

Contributor program announcement

Dear Venture Café Participants and Supporters,

We founded the Venture Café two years ago with the goal of providing our innovation community a regular venue to meet, make new connections, and help each other realize our dreams. During this time, we have been fortunate to experience a tremendous amount of growth in attendance as well as support from many strong partner organizations.

Beginning this year, we have decided to launch the Contributor Model. The Venture Café will continue to be open to all members of the innovation community as our guests; however, going forward we ask regular attendees of the Venture Café to become “Contributors”. As a Contributor, you are expected to be champions of the Venture Café credo, as well as to be a productive connector, facilitator, and conversation-starter while in the café.

So, in a sense, the beer isn’t free. Instead, we’re asking you to “pay it forward“.

Here is how it will work:

- Visitors to the Café are invited to attend as guests up to three times. During these first three visits, guests can learn more about the Venture Café community and offerings.

- After three visits, individuals must become Contributors in order to attend the Café. The role of a Contributor is to support the mission of Venture Café by actively aiding others to pursue their innovative and entrepreneurial goals. An analysis of the attendance of the café has led us to conclude that we initially have space for only 120 Contributors. As a consequence, becoming a Contributor is selective, similar to applying to a university, and is by application (see Contributor Application). Applicants must also provide up to three references (these may be Venture Café Volunteers, Contributors, or well-known members of the innovation community).

- During the transition to this new model, past visitors to the café who have already visited more than three times will be provided one additional opportunity to visit as a guest before they must apply.

- In addition, visiting privileges at the Venture Café have been extended to members of certain innovation-focused partner organizations C3, CIC, CommonAngels, Critical Mass, Dogpatch Labs, Greentown Labs, Mass Challenge (finalists and mentors), TechStars etc).

This new model is an ongoing experiment to improve Venture Café and over time, we will analyze the parameters we have set and tweak them as needed.

We hope that these changes will create a more focused, committed core of regular attendees while preserving plenty of space and opportunity for new participants in our innovation ecosystem to take advantage of the opportunities the café has to offer as a cross-roads and meeting place.

Thank you.


Tim Rowe – Founder/Chairman of the Trustees

Chris Myles – Executive Director


12 thoughts on “Contributor Program Announcement”

  1. I’ve attended the Venture Cafe 7 times and was just made aware of this new model from my last attendance. I have come to see the Venture Cafe as a place to make valuable connections and just an all around fun place to be.

    These changes concern me immensely and at least in my mind take away from what the Venture Cafe was for me. First off, a cafe to me implicitly means a location that is open to the entire community where anyone can come and hang out. With this new model, I think the Venture Cafe has become a misnomer and this is more like a Venture Club.

    I am a 23 year old who works in the corporate world and is exploring the startup space. If there are only 120 possible Contributors and 120 people apply who all have valuable start ups or connections within the startup community, then either me or people like me (those who lack the proper startup credentials) won’t be allowed back in the cafe. I’m not sure this will actually breed more innovation.

    Lastly, I tend to go to this event from 6pm-8pm and the people that I see recurrently can’t number more than 15. If all 15 of these people were to become Contributors and not show up on a certain day, then it would all be new people and the people whose application you had denied wouldn’t be allowed in even though there was ample space in the actual venue.

    I may or may not apply. However, I figured I would voice my concerns in the hope that the Venture Cafe can still be an awesome place.

    1. Greg, unfortunately we are at our capacity and have had to develop the best way to curate participants. We’ve worked VERY hard to create a solution which keeps all the elements of the Venture Café community that have made it thrive. Venture Cafe continues to be open to all members of the innovation community–all are welcome to attend repeatedly as our guests (up to three times). It would have been very easy to create a true club.. invite only, composed of just startups, or just experts, or just those exploring entrepreneurship, or we could have categorically denied entry to service providers. We want/need students, encourage ideation phase startups to apply and want to understand their challenges to see if we can help. To drive innovation forward we need all of these elements.

      We have physical space for 180 people and historically get what would now be 1/3 visitors, 1/3 affiliates and 1/3 contributors. We figure that contributors will, on average, show up every other week so we have allocated 120 slots. Our goal is to start with a modest-sized Contributor group and grow from there. We have a limited ability to absorb and support new Contributors, and we will do so in a measured/balanced way. This new model is an ongoing experiment and over time, we will analyze the parameters we have set and adjust them as needed.

      Venture Café will still be an awesome place and we are working hard to keep the community balanced, focused and committed to making a difference.

      Chris Myles
      Executive Director, Venturé Cafe

  2. The new model does seem a bit restrictive and it is not clear why they did not try a platform like Eventbrite or Meetup to require RSVPs and to control attendance. Whether the contributors will be more like “human switchboards”, or more like the connectors at Boston World Partnerships will not be known for some time. For my part, it is difficult to justify participating in a networking organization going through such growing pains that it cannot figure out how to address these basic issues.

    1. Jon, leveraging Eventbrite or Meetup is a first come first served solution. Our goal is to make sure we have the right mix of people in the room… not just the right number.

      We are not just a networking organization, we also need a balance of builders, service providers, and fresh ideas in order to make Venture Cafe community vibrant and sustainable.. to drive innovation forward.

      Chris Myles
      Executive Director, Venture Cafe

  3. On the positive side, I indeed see the logistical reason for the new policy- capacity needs to be addressed. I also see how the new policy could create more of a core community that is better positioned to spread the cafe’s creed, not to mention that the selection ensures a level of diversity that is valuable. So I think the motivations for the policy shift are strong.

    However, I’m concerned with the execution. At the surface, it seems to conflict with the brand; a university-style application process for a cafe seems contrary to the concept of a cafe. It starts feeling more bureaucratic with the proverbial administration that no one likes.

    But that’s not what really concerns me. The criteria I’d like to assess any cafe policy change by is whether or not the proposal eases or hinders the ability for great ideas, ventures, and people of all backgrounds to integrate and spread within the community. I feel this policy doesn’t fare well against this criterion.

    The challenge of balancing capacity and mix is something the hospitality sector has dealt with for a long time; I think there are some ideas we can borrow

    Here’s one thought… if I’m an exclusive nightclub owner, I need to be focused on both capacity and the right mix of people to set the mood. So, I create a hybrid reservation system with a simplistic social hierarchy. In its most primitive form, anyone can reserve a table, but you have VIPs that get priority entry. The challenge with applying this to the cafe is deciding a criteria for a VIP… the new application policy could be used, but I see another way.

    Why not approach the challenge like the latest search engine rank algorithms and let social signals from within the community determine who gets priority? For example, say there is someone new to the community, but they have a fantastic idea. If the venture cafe community begin’s “liking” this person and/or his content, ideas, articles, etc.., that person starts getting priority reservation status.

    While the idea of a hybrid reservation and social signals system may be unique, each of these has been applied to similar challenges in other industries to address the valid concerns raised in the above dialog. Some may argue that this hybrid approach is difficult to implement and impractical. But think about it… how does it truly stack up against the status quo in terms of addressing capacity, diversity, democracy, and promoting community?

    1. As A newcomer to the Boston startup scene I doubt I would show up on any local social “radar” but worked furiously where I came from to support the growth of another entrepreneur community in a far more challenging metro area. I appreciate the desire for the founders of VC to create the right balance in the room and hope whatever application process is involved continues to be a meritocracy vs populocracity.

  4. What I dislike about this whole policy is the fact that the basic concept that I saw in Venture Cafe is changed. For example, I’ve met at least a handful of smart (and I mean very smart) people who were always on their own and knew nobody because of their lack of social skills. I saw Venture Cafe as a way to get smart people like this to not only do great thing for themselves, but to do great things for and with others as well. Well, now you request that people become contributors, and the type of people I mentioned earlier, for example, would most likely not be accepted since there is a “reference” criteria, which they would most likely have none to provide. Just two cents.

  5. I have visited the cafe a couple times now, and while I can appreciate the struggle to manage attendance and keep things balanced, perhaps it would seem less Draconian if rather than cutting off visitors after their 4th visit, to simply limit their annual attendance thereafter, if they’ve not yet met “contributor” criteria. After all, true innovators go through cycles of creativity. Why not impose a system that leaves the door open for these types…?

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