When Tyler Mathews, ’09, ’12, was developing his startup business, he spent a lot of time in coffee shops to take advantage of the free workspace. Although still focused on creating new business, Mathews now operates in a more high-energy environment — a place where he helps other entrepreneurs grow their dreams.
As executive director of the popular Venture Café in St. Louis, Mathews serves up collaboration in a space that bills itself as a “community of colliders” — an opportunity to bring people together, nurture entrepreneurship and help the local economy grow.
Housed in the bustling Cortex area of St. Louis, Venture Café holds regular gatherings where people discuss fledgling business ideas with each other and with experts.
As one participant put it, Venture Café is “a safe place to say your dreams out loud.”
“You have a bunch of people asking the exact same questions,” Mathews says, “so you feel like you’re in the right company.”
Mathews, who has his undergraduate and MBA degrees from Maryville University, has chased his own business dreams, and has firsthand experience in what it takes to make them come true.
He devised a startup called “Yougy,” which would help friends in a crowded venue find each other. At the same time, he worked in fundraising, marketing and website development at Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.
“I didn’t sleep for a very long time,” Mathews says.
At Venture Café, he leans on his entrepreneurial experience to bring the right people together to build on their business ideas. The group’s gatherings aren’t typical happy hour or networking events; they’re not too structured, Mathews says, and not too stuffy.
Often, people haven’t honed their ideas and thought things through to the point where they can take their entrepreneurial plans to the next level, Mathews says. Venture Café gives them the place to work out individual recipes for success.
“We’ve successfully created this culture where people feel safe to ask questions or bounce ideas off of people,” he says.
Venture Café began as a real café in Cambridge, Mass., but soon morphed into its current format. Along with St. Louis, similar networking cafés have opened in Miami and Rotterdam, with plans to continue expanding.
Locally, the expansion of Venture Café gatherings includes the Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur. The whole idea, Mathews says, is to be a force behind the region’s growing reputation as a great place to start and grow a business.
“We’re attracting lot of high quality talent to St. Louis,” he says. “We’re not just talking about improving St. Louis, but really doing it. That solidifies St. Louis’s role in the national startup scene.”