He’s here to listen. If you have a vision, and you think you can make it happen, tech pioneer Steve Case is ready to hear how two Silicon66 cities – Albuquerque and Phoenix – are developing an edge in problem-solving and innovation.
The co-founder of AOL is bringing the fifth Rise of the Rest startup bus tour to the Southwest because he believes any entrepreneur anywhere can create opportunities. But it’s really the ecosystems producing innovation that fascinate Case, who is chairman and CEO of the investment firm Revolution.
In an exclusive interview with Silicon 66, Case said he’s on a quest to find out what sets entrepreneurial ecosystems here apart – and get them national exposure.
For all of his career, he said, his best ideas come “from being exposed to a lot of ideas and connecting the dots. I’ve always believed in casting a wide net and listening to people carefully.”
That’s why he’s coming ready to invest $500,000 in regional startups on the Rise of the Rest road trip, which hits Omaha/Lincoln on Oct. 3, Denver on Oct. 4, Salt Lake City on Oct. 5, Albuquerque on Oct. 6 and Phoenix on Oct. 7. One startup in each city will win $100,000 in a pitch competition.
Rise of the Rest is trekking out to regional entrepreneurial ecosystems because it’s founded on the belief that high-growth companies can scale up and sustain momentum – no matter where they are.
That’s much the same principle on which Silicon66 was founded – the growing evidence that being rooted in a regional thriving ecosystem offers advantages such as limited external “noise” that yields focused problem-solving and a potent clarity around innovation. So we asked him about that.
“I totally agree, that’s very in sync with Rise of the Rest,” he said. “I think these ecosystems will be critical in the third wave of the Internet.”
In that scenario, entrepreneurial innovation will be more broadly dispersed, he said.
In regional ecosystems like Silicon66, Case said his experience has been that once startups get going, they are more sustainable. “There’s more of a sense of loyalty and less job-hopping like in Silicon Valley. In Silicon Valley, you do benefit from bumping into a lot of engineers and being exposed to a lot of creative ideas. It can also lead to distractions and less of a commitment to any one company.”
These new ecosystems might not have the advantage of engineering talent that Silicon Valley does or the media attention that the East Coast does, Case said. But they have the advantages of collaboration, viable partnerships and long-term strategy.
“In various Rise of the Rest cities, it’s harder to get going, but once you are, it’s easier to scale,” Case said.
Previous Rise of the Rest tours have focused on regions such as the Midwest and the Southeast, hitting cities from Detroit to Pittsburgh, Nashville to Des Moines, the Twin Cities to St. Louis, Atlanta to Raleigh.
“This time we wanted to do the Southwest,” Case said. “It’s a region we know is on the rise.”
Case is the first to say he still has a lot to learn about Albuquerque, Phoenix and the other Rise of the Rest cities – and he’s eager to hear more. That’s why Case and his team plan to meet with local startups, accelerators and incubators; hold public events with investors, business leaders and elected officials; and the spotlight event — a pitch competition.
“At the core of this is talent,” he said. “It starts with an idea, starts with people who can take ideas and run with them, some kind of expertise, whether it’s cybersecurity or biotech.”
Case is seeking more input on people to meet and places to visit while he’s visiting. He said he’s looking for the most interesting factors that make a region appealing. “And then tell that story of what differentiates the region to bring larger national exposure,” he added.
That third wave of the Internet is what he’s riding out ahead of — it’s the title of his forthcoming book, in which he defines an emerging era in which entrepreneurs will vastly transform “real world” sections like health, education, transportation, energy and food.
Regional ecosystems have an advantage in that scenario, the way Case sees it. “Partnerships are going to be more important in many of these sectors in the middle of the country.”
But for Case, it comes down to execution. “That’s where partners become important,” he said, adding that he’s inspired by inventor Thomas Edison, who said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”
To see who’s already on the rise – winners from past Rise of the Rest tours including Frameri, PartPic, SolePower, Wealthforge and more – go to RiseofRest.com. On Twitter and Instagram, look for #RiseofRest.