Origin partner Bruce Barron on the importance of networking

 

I recently participated in the Israel Cancer Research Fund’s (ICRF) Revolving Tables event in Chicago as a mentor. ICRF is an international charitable organization whose mission is to support cancer research programs in Israel for the benefit of Israel and all mankind.

The Revolving Tables event is a networking event for young professionals. Following a one hour cocktail reception, the 130 attendees were served a 3 course meal on 3 different tables, with one resident mentor at each table. After each course, the young professionals moved to another table with a new mentor. So throughout the event, each attendee met and dined with 3 mentors and 24 additional young professionals.

As a mentor, my objective was to discuss my career path and respond to questions from the young professionals sitting with me. Reflecting on what the young professionals wanted to know, the one common theme they were interested in was the value of networking in my career and how they could embrace networking to advance their own careers. So I shared with them how networking had a huge impact on my life:

In the summer of 1998, I was CEO of a small biotech company developing a diagnostic test to detect Alzheimer’s disease when I received a call from someone in my network that would change my life. My friend and cousin, Sherwin Korey, called me to ask if I was interested in meeting Steve Miller. He explained that Steve’s family had recently sold their business, Quill Office Products, and that Steve was in the early stage of exploring his interest to invest some of his proceeds from the sale in startup companies.

I was familiar with Quill and read about the sale to Staples, but did not know Steve. Being open-minded and eager to meet new people and expand my network, I told Sherwin that I would be happy to meet Steve and subsequently scheduled a lunch meeting with Steve.

At our initial lunch, I learned that Steve and I had several things in common, including: i) we were both alumni of the University of Illinois College of Business (though I graduated 10 years before Steve), ii) we both grew up in Skokie, iii) we were both big Blackhawk fans, iv) we shared an entrepreneurial spirit, and v) we both had very dry senses of humor.

Quill.com, Steve Miller's first companyI learned that Steve had written Quill’s business plan for its first website, after 40 years as a mail order company. This pivot contributed significantly to the value of Quill in the subsequent sale of the company. Steve explained that he believed the internet was in its early days, and that he was interested in using his experience and knowledge to invest some of his capital in internet-based startups.

I told Steve of my background as a CPA, how I had transitioned to become an entrepreneur in 1985, and my experience working with startup medical technology companies over the previous 13 years, first as CFO and then as CEO. I had been involved with raising capital for many of these ventures, and steered them towards exits – I took some of these companies public and sold several others.

Steve and I continued to meet every 4-6 weeks, and after about 4 months we decided to explore investing our own capital in startup tech companies together. We soon formed Origin Ventures and launched Fund I in September 1999. Thus began the origin of Origin Ventures.

Origin Ventures would never have been formed had it not been for networking. Had Sherwin not connected me with Steve, I am not sure what I would have done for the past 19 years or what I would be doing today. However, I am confident that had I not met Steve, the past 19 years  would not have been as enjoyable and rewarding as starting and growing Origin Ventures has proven.

I am profoundly grateful to Sherwin and to Steve for making the last 19 years amazing. I encourage everyone to value your network and pay attention to growing it. You never know how the next call, text, email, or message from someone in your network with an introduction may change your life.