Karen Barnes, Venture Café helps innovators, entrepreneurs

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Let’s face it, if you work for someone other than yourself your job is never fully secure.

Have you ever thought about breaking free, starting your own company, working for yourself? If so, Karen Barnes would like to hear from you. And you can probably learn a lot from her.

Barnes is the executive director of Venture Café Winston-Salem. It’s a nonprofit that hosts weekly “gatherings” (every Thursday night) to connect innovators and entrepreneurs.

She defined it for me with a series of questions recently: “How can we create together? How can we help each other? How can we get connected to be stronger together?”

“I don’t like to call Venture Café a ‘networking event,’” she said. “You could spend every day in Winston-Salem going to networking events.”

In fact, business card exchanges are discouraged at these gatherings in hopes of establishing relationships and encouraging conversations.

Typically, the events run from 5 to 8 p.m. with the first hour consisting of people meeting and “communicating.” The 6 to 8 p.m. time period is more structured.

“So from 6 to 8 you’re going to have your choice of five to six different programs: everything from hearing from an investor, what investors are looking for to how to build a more resilient culture to a startup story from someone who’s actually been through it,” Barnes said.

“I would say if you have an idea, come let us help you get connected because you don’t have to go through it alone,” she said. “Whether it’s connecting you with an attorney or helping you get involved with a startup weekend or get connected with business planning or financial planning, we can help get you connected. Those connections are what will absolutely drive your success.”

Winston-Salem is one of a few Venture Café cities worldwide. There are others in St. Louis, Miami, Boston, Tokyo and Rotterdam in The Netherlands. Locally, it’s funded by local corporations and foundations as well as personal donations.

Again, the “gatherings” are free, open to anyone and happen every Thursday.

For more information on dates and locations click here.