If collaboration is the key to innovation, The Venture Café in Kendall Square exists to facilitate that collaboration. 

Each week, members of the public are invited to the fourth floor of the Cambridge Innovation Center to socialize and brainstorm – and maybe forge a relationship that leads to a new product or company.

“Innovation always starts with a conversation,” said Carlos Martinez-Vela, the Executive Director of the Venture Café Foundation, a non-profit initiative of the CIC. “And that’s at the heart of what the Venture Café is about.”

The Venture Café is open to the public each Thursday – from 3 to 8.  There’s no cover charge, and the beer and wine are free.  Ideas are the only currency exchanged here.

“It’s about people connecting with each other to talk and tell stories,” Martinez-Vela said. “Stories that might lead somewhere.”

The crowd is as dynamic as it is diverse. Circles form naturally throughout the room. On my second visit to the Venture Café, I met four men discussing the pros and cons of building a business in Cambridge. 

“I’ve often called this Hollywood for techies,” quipped Roger Matus, a software entrepreneur. His office isn’t in the CIC, but his work often brings him here. 

“I try to arrange meetings on Thursday afternoons cause then I get to hang out here afterwards,” Matus said.

Matus appreciates the free beer, but that isn’t why he makes a point of stopping by the Venture Café.  He said he comes here because it helps him keep up in an industry that’s always changing.

“If you want to stay current and know what the future is going to bring, someone here is working on it,” he said.

Nearby, Mary-Alice Brady sits in a makeshift booth crafted out of a 5 by 3 foot sheet of paper. Under a cutout window, a sign reads: “The Advice Doctor is In.” 

“Are you thinking someday you want to start your own business?” Brady asked a young woman.

“Uh, probably not,” she replied. “Well, it depends, but I’d definitely be willing to like go along with someone who has great ideas and needs my input.”

Brady offers her prescription for success – also free of charge – to anyone who’s interested. She worked as a corporate attorney for more than a decade before founding MosaicHUB, an online resource center for entrepreneurs. Now she volunteers at the Venture Café. 

“A lot of the questions actually are pretty common challenges that start-ups face,” Brady said. “I just had someone ask about how to find developers, how to really build a team, how to network better. And just resources available in the Boston community.”

The Venture Café is one of those resources – a place to connect, learn and become inspired. And who knows?  It could help spark the start of the next big thing.