Far from the typical Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Celestine Johnson, 30, spends about half of her time working on experiential and creative projects. As the innovation partner at Innovation Endeavors—where experiential is core to the company strategy—she works on investments, but also builds immersive live programs that are part theater, part game design, and part intellectual conference.
Her events, including the four-year-old retreat known as Curiosity Camp, are typically held off the grid and provide a format for high-level thinker technologist and entrepreneur attendees to interact, teach, share, and collaborate, all under a particular narrative for an immersive theater-like experience.
She describes Curiosity Camp as “part TED, part Burning Man, and part Bohemian Grove.” She says scenarios may look like “an artist meets a rocket scientist, and together they send the first art show to space after getting funding through Curiosity Camp—I design for what I cannot even imagine to happen,” she says. “This allows for silos to be broken and for interdisciplinary imagination to come together and pursue collective curiosity.”
Johnson also planned the first Innovation Lab in the sky with British Airways—a workshop held mid-flight—and has partnered with the White House and NASA on numerous event-based initiatives including the International Space Apps Challenge and the National Day of Civic Hacking.
For the hacking event, her team opened up data sets from various government agencies for hackers to use to work on innovation for programs that affect the nation. Now in its third year, the National Day of Civic Hacking is billed as the largest hackathon anywhere, drawing 12,000 participants across the United States last year.
“Experiential events have been a visceral canvas for my creativity and imagination,” Johnson says. “I found that they were an unexpected way to launch our firm’s identity and our ability to discover and partner with some of the world’s most interesting people, solving the world’s most interesting problems.”
Events, she says, “are vessels that enable innovation, not just connect people and ideas. There is little innovation and disruption in the venture capital industry. We use events to place us at the center of key ecosystems, add disproportionate value to our portfolio companies, and enable innovation with financial and human impact.”
As for what’s next, Johnson says she is designing a real-time event and an online game that casts the world’s top technologists in solving major global challenges, something akin to the “innovation Olympics.”
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