AOL co-founder Steve Case has expressed his worry that elite tech hubs like Silicon Valley may be growing at the expense of the rest of the nation by concentrating capital and talent in just a few thriving hubs. He’s taking on his concern directly with a personal crusade to invest money to tech innovators in areas the heartland like Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Des Moines, and Columbus.
As part of his mission, Case will be bringing his sixth Rise of the Rest bus tour to Columbus, OH on October 13, 2017 in search of the next great tech idea.
This year marks the tour’s first stop in Ohio’s capital. Along with Columbus, Rise of the Rest will hit Lancaster, PA; Ann Arbor, MI; Indianapolis, IN; and Green Bay, WI in October.
Case’s investment firm, Revolution, created the tour to showcase local business founders in emerging cities across the United States. Since it launched in 2014, the Rise of the Rest tour has journeyed over 6,000 miles to 26 cities. Case has personally invested over $4 million in local tech startups.
As Case put it, “Right now, 75% of venture capital is going to three states: California, New York, and Massachusetts. The other 47 states… are fighting over 25%. We think that’s crazy.”
The highlight of the tour is the $100,000 pitch competition. Eight Columbus-area businesses will compete to be selected the winner by presenting their pitch to Steve Case and an all-star panel.
One of last year’s winners was PK Clean out of Provo, Utah. PK Clean works toward solving the problem of plastic waste by converting it into fuel. The company’s process is sustainable with a high energy payback and no toxic emissions. Innobright out of Albuquerque also won $100,000 last year for their development of Altus, the first multi-platform Monte Carlo render denoising system. The company’s customer base includes ad companies, architectural and engineering firms, animation studios, science labs, and gaming firms.
Local entrepreneurs, nonprofits, government officials, and businesses will also discuss startup growth with a chat designed for the broader community regarding regional entrepreneurship. Following the pitch competition, Case and the rest of the crew will host a networking party for investors and entrepreneurs of Columbus.
Columbus startups have until August 30 to apply to be one of eight businesses in the competition. Applications are only accepted through the Rise of the Rest website. All types of sectors are eligible for the prize, including tech startups in agriculture, food, energy, software development, and health care.
To be eligible, your startup must be headquartered within 75 miles of Columbus. You must be in active beta or have a live service or product. Your startup must also have measurable performance indicators like revenue, successful beta results, or customers and be raising or have near-term plans to raise an early stage round.
So how will contestants be judged? According to Rise of the Rest, pitch finalists are judged on:
- Execution, or whether there is strong growth in revenue or customers.
- Team, or whether the team has the leadership and skills to move ahead.
- Jobs, or whether the idea can employ a large number of people when scaled.
- Bold idea, or whether it has the potential to affect the community, change the industry, or revolutionize the world.
- Business model, or whether the revenue model is defined with realistic goals.
- Supporting documents, which refers to the quality of the application responses and supporting documents like the company website, product demo, and video intro.
While some may consider the areas that Case visits “fly-over country,” his mission to prove that these regions could better compete with big cities when businesses and other region leaders work together is paying off.