In late 2010, I was telling people about my plan to recruit top college graduates to join and start early-stage companies around the country to generate U.S. job growth. I wanted to start in Detroit.
I discussed this with an accomplished entrepreneur and fellow Brown alum, Liz Hamburg.
Liz said to me, "If you're interested in Detroit, I should introduce you to Bernie Sucher."
She explained that Bernie was a Detroit native and entrepreneur who now lived in Moscow, but had a lot of affection for his hometown.
Bernie was friendly over email. We traded a few messages. In one of them he mentioned, "I'm actually heading to Detroit in a couple of weeks."
I had no plans to be in Detroit; I actually had never been there before. But I responded, "I'll be there too that week -- we should meet up." I wanted to meet Bernie and figured a plane ticket, rental car, and a couple of nights in a hotel would cost about $1,000.
Bernie and I met at the airport and hit it off. He insisted on driving us around while pointing out Detroit landmarks.
We spent two days together visiting Detroit-based companies and pitching Venture for America to CEOs and investors. By the end of the second day, we were finishing each other's sentences.
During these meetings, I would give people my Venture for America business card, which I'd printed up a few weeks earlier. Bernie would offer his card as well, printed in Russian with a Moscow address on it.
This, plus Bernie's 6-foot, 5-inch frame, shaved head, suit, and overcoat made him quite an imposing figure. At least one entrepreneur later confessed to me that he was like, "Who the heck were those guys?" and Googled Bernie as soon as we left to make sure he wasn't in any danger.
Bernie became one of the first members of Venture for America's board of directors and a tremendous champion. It was through his contacts that Venture for America established a major partnership with UBS, started working with Bank of America, and enlisted our current chairman, Sy Jacobs.
The $1,000 I spent traveling to Detroit to meet up with Bernie ended up generating over $1.5 million in resources for Venture for America over the next few years.
Bernie became the trunk of the VFA tree, the branches of which continue to grow leaves and throw off shade to this day.
Sometimes, you have to just get on the plane.
This post originally ran on http://www.businessinsider.com/.
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