Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Shines Spotlight on Emerging Tech Hubs

Steve Case, venture capitalist, author, and co-founder of AOL, is preparing to hit the road this week on his sixth Rise of the Rest tour, where he travels to emerging innovation hubs in search of investment-worthy tech startups and to highlight the growth happening outside of places like Silicon Valley and Boston.

In the years since the tour’s inception in 2014, Case says he’s become “quite encouraged” by the momentum he sees building in the middle of the country. However, he also says there is more work to be done.

“The story is still not well-understood by media and others on the coasts—there is often a disconnect,” Case says. “But I’m encouraged when I’m on the ground, despite data showing a lack of venture capital going to these areas.”

When the Rise of the Rest tour stops in Ann Arbor, MI, on Wednesday, it will be a repeat visit to Michigan; the tour launched from Detroit in 2014. Other stops on this year’s tour include Harrisburg, York, and Lancaster, PA; Indianapolis, IN; Columbus, OH; and Green Bay, WI.

Joining Case on the tour this year is JD Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” a bestseller many turned to after last year’s presidential election in an effort to understand the mindset of Trump voters in middle America. Vance recently joined Case’s Washington, DC-based firm Revolution, where he will serve as a sort of Rust Belt liaison charged with expanding Rise of the Rest.

“A lot of people do feel left out and didn’t benefit from coastal innovation,” Case points out. “A year ago, Silicon Valley was not paying attention, so for them, [the election] was a wake-up call. Now, they’re more interested in having a discussion. JD’s book spoke to some of those issues and opened a lot of people’s eyes to what’s happening.”

Case has been evangelizing for his Rise of the Rest ethos—that innovative tech startups do exist outside of the coasts, and they deserve venture backing—since long before Trump was elected. Although he takes pains to work with people on both sides of the political spectrum, he announced his endorsement of Hillary Clinton last year in a Washington Post op-ed. He did so, he wrote, because he felt Clinton would be better for the economy as well as startups, given her support of increasing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education and her stance on immigration. Clinton, he said at the time, represented the country’s best hope of remaining “the most innovative and entrepreneurial nation in the world.”

Since the election, Case says he has met with Trump and spoken to Congress about the need to support innovation, especially in so-called flyover states, and he’s cautiously optimistic.

“[President Trump] was receptive,” Case says of their discussion. “Obviously, they have a lot on their plate, but as the debate moves forward, I hope there’s more of a focus on job creation and the Rise of the Rest phenomenon. If you look at the states he carried, they account for less than 15 percent of VC investment last year.”

The Trump administration recognizes the need to create jobs, as promised during the campaign in states like Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin, Case says, but “the when and how are hard to predict.”

At every Rise of the Rest tour stop, Case invites a group of pre-selected local startups (see list below) to pitch their ideas in hopes of winning a $100,000 investment. He personally backs these companies in part to show other investors the kinds of deals they’re potentially missing out on.

“The quality of pitches and diversity of businesses pitching have increased since we … Next Page »

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