Every Thursday, Venture Café Philadelphia offers fresh, relevant and useful programming for the Philly Innovation scene; but ever wondered who's behind the scenes making sure it all comes together, week after week? Meet Jen Rajchel, the Science Center's new Program Manager and Experience Designer for Venture Café. Jen has an eye for creating gatherings that spark connections, foster community and fuel curiosity. In fact, over 2,000 people have already turned out for the first 11 Venture Cafés. Read on to find out what interests this local coffee aficionado when she is not designing experiences we all want to be a part of.
What interested in you this position and why did you want to work for the Science Center?
This position interested me because of the combination of the legacy of the Science Center in supporting innovation and the new venture (pun intended) of Venture Café in the city of Philadelphia. I loved the notion collaborating with a team to experiment at a rapid, weekly pace while also having a strong foundation and broader team with expertise to draw upon. Also, I loved the idea of being able to iterate every week while learning from fascinating people.
Your title is Venture Café Program Manager and Experience Designer. Program Manager is pretty self-explanatory – what does Experience Designer mean to you?
Experience Designer means intentionally taking a human-centered perspective. To me one the most exciting questions is: how do we use empathy to design meaningful, inspiring interactions. For example, can we design an experience to be welcoming? I love how Venture Café has incorporated intentional design into the experience in the name tag format. On the name tags the design includes two pieces of information: 1. your name 2. the number of times you’ve attended a Venture Café. In part, the goal of this design is to help everyone focus connecting with the whole person and embracing all of their interests rather than just seeing them as their current role.
Which Venture Café session or speaker has been your favorite and why are they memorable?
It’s really hard to choose! I’d have to say my favorite was the Black Pearl Orchestra.
They were the very first “speakers” at the inaugural Venture Café. Jeri Lynne Johnson talked about how leadership can be thought of as “shaping the silence." She showed us via music how too much control as a conductor stilted the sound. Conversely, we also heard how the lack of direction from a conductor made the music seem less cohesive. It was surprising, interactive, and inspiring. For me, these are kind of thoughtful, inspiring, and actionable insights that I hope everyone experiences at Venture Café.
In your opinion, what is the greatest contribution Venture Café is making to the Philly Tech and Innovation scene?
Venture Café is a platform for bringing together partners to make visible the innovative work happening in Philly, to acknowledge the long-standing efforts of fellow community partners, and to foster inclusion via unexpected connections and insights.
What is something people would be surprised to know about the planning that goes into the weekly Venture Café?
The amount of teamwork and intentionality behind engineering serendipitous collisions.
When you’re not planning a weekly conference, what do you like to do?
My favorite weekend activity is sitting in a coffee shop (shout out to Elixr) and reading a good book.