Creating a Place to Hang Out With Investors

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venture_cafe.jpgOne of the biggest challenges for many startups is finding funding. How can they connect with angel investors or venture-capital firms?

There are plenty of investor conferences you can attend, and maybe pitch a group of possible funders your story. But there aren't many places designed to let entrepreneurs and investors hang out in a casual setting. A new restaurant, The Venture Cafe hopes to change that.

Supported by Cambridge Innovation Center founder and CEO Tim Rowe, the cafe debuted March 1 in a temporary space near the MIT campus. With its initial three-month "beta test" (what else?), cafe organizers hope to foster dialogue and build community between Boston-area investors and entrepreneurs. A permanent space for the cafe is being sought.

To get the cafe rolling, a series of "office hour" sessions are being sponsored by The New England Venture Capital Association. Several firms have already signed up to hold 25-minute pitch sessions at the cafe. The signup sheet encourages investors to come early and hang out after their scheduled pitch times in hopes of allowing random connections and more casual contact to be made. The office hours have proved popular -- most of the available slots through the end of April have already been booked by local entrepreneurs. May still has some openings, though.

Often, entrepreneurs have multiple contacts with investors before they get a firm commitment, so the cafe may provide a chance to meet casually with investors and get to know each other a bit. In our increasingly virtual business world, it's refreshing to see a concept that gets startup owners and funders out to meet in person. The cafe format may also help some entrepreneurs who might be intimidated by going to a VC firm's office to pitch. 

If you have a snappier name for the Venture Cafe, drop them a line at their Facebook page -- they're soliciting name suggestions.
Where have you connected with investors? Would you like to see a venture cafe in your town? I won't be surprised to see this concept spread to other cities.

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