For Andy Stefanovich, Creative Principal at New Richmond Ventures in Virginia, any reason he could find to return to the city he grew up exploring was good enough to jump on a plane. “I was a Grosse Pointe kid who spent most of my time running around downtown Detroit, hitting every Tiger game I could. I love Detroit like nothing else, it’s part of my soul, so my wife says I create excuses to return.” But Stefanovich had a legitimate reason to visit the Motor City in September, as he joined 200 “ex-pats” from Detroit for a two-day Detroit Homecoming. Attendees were treated to a front row seat to city newsmakers and national thoughtleaders, and given a tour of the transformation of the city they all used to call home.
Stefanovich’s background is firmly rooted in creative, innovative thinking, something he says he saw over and over again in his trip back to Detroit. Over 20 years ago, he co-founded Play, a Richmond-based creativity and innovation consultancy that globally changed the way business does business. At NRV, he engages entrepreneurs in creative conversations to clearly articulate their vision, shared values, messaging, marketing strategies, social media plans, etc. A nationally recognized innovation thought leader, Stefanovich is also the author of “Look at More,” an Inc. bestseller that was cited by Advertising Age as one of the “Ten Marketing Books You Should Have Read” in 2011.
In his venture capital role, Stafanovich invests in companies that personify the story and personality of the founders, people who have heart and soul and conviction behind their business idea. He found entrepreneurs and change agents in Detroit with those traits in abundance. “I think you saw even the mega-superstar investor Warren Buffet impressed by the industrial fortitude of Detroiters as he made a promise to invest in its automotive industry (which he made good on in a huge way by buying Van Tuyl Group, the nation’s largest privately owned auto dealer network, for an undisclosed sum). The best investors find companies that have an industrial nature in their DNA, and that’s so at the core of Detroit.”
Stefanovich was impressed by a tour of the new Detroit Outdoor Adventure Center on the Riverfront, and also the Ride and Drives the group did on Belle Isle. While on the island, he bumped into the park commissioner who listed all the activity there on a random Saturday. “It’s nothing like when I was growing up and only time anyone went to Belle Isle was for the Grand Prix race,” he remembers.
His days in Detroit made him reflect on what makes a city like Detroit change from downtrodden to great. “The homecoming event showed us that Detroit’s a lesson in revitalization–not gentrification or economic development and not just because necessity breeds change, but it’s because the spirit of the people is so amazing and they want to work hard. We’re kind and hospitable in the southeast and I love the business climate, but Detroit has a deep heritage of industrialism that really helps drive activity with its grit and determination.” He was so impressed by the sites and initiatives he saw that he, along with a few other local businessmen, plan to send their associates back to Detroit for a few days, to witness the city through younger eyes and find program ideas to bring back to Richmond. One his favorite quotes of the visit was a young Detroit-based entrepreneur who said the reason he stayed in Detroit was because the city was “big enough in the world to matter, but small enough that I can matter.”