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Steve Case’s VC Bus Tour Looks To Fund Startups In Overlooked Cities

The AOL cofounder announces more stops on his “Rise of the Rest” bus tour, and shares what he’s learned.

Steve Case’s VC Bus Tour Looks To Fund Startups In Overlooked Cities
[Photos: Flickr user Rise of the Rest]

With nearly three-quarters of all U.S. venture capital investment landing in just three states–California, New York, and Massachusetts–serial entrepreneur and AOL cofounder Steve Case has been hitting the road to promote other startup ecosystems across America as part of his Rise of the Rest bus tour.

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The tour, which has already made stops and investments in 14 cities since its rollout last year, announced its next five hubs on the road map–Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Manchester, NH, and Portland, Maine–during the first ever Demo Day held at the White House this week.

Case’s Washington, D.C.-based VC firm Revolution, along with partners like Google for Entrepreneurs and Salesforce for Startups, have committed to investing another $1 million to add to the $1.5 million dished out to promising startups during the first 3,000 miles logged on the tour since its launch last spring.

“Silicon Valley is the most iconic, but also New York City and the Boston area were attracting a lot of capital, but there are great entrepreneurs and thriving startup communities all over the country, and their story wasn’t being told as well, and there wasn’t as much capital flowing to them,” said Case, hours before announcing the next leg of the tour alongside President Obama. “I was cochairing the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, backed by President Obama, and a shared initiative called Startup America. I worked with him on a jobs council focused on entrepreneurship, and it became clear that the best way to unleash more job growth and economic growth was to focus more on startups.”

During each of the stops, Case and his team met with local entrepreneurs, investors, school administrators, and politicians to identify the needs and promote the growth of each individual startup ecosystem.

“There’s a recognition that this is an important initiative; helping growth startups generally is important, helping to build startup communities across the country is important, and in most cases, the people we’re engaging are already doing things that are helpful. We’re just trying to knit it together into a more cohesive tapestry,” said Case.

One such stop on the upcoming leg of the tour is Philadelphia, home to one of the country’s only private/public partnership investment funds, Startup PHL, one of the most diverse startup ecosystems in America and one of the country’s only municipal departments solely dedicated to entrepreneurship investment.

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“They reached out to us, and we were very excited,” said Archna Sahay, the manager of entrepreneurial investment for the City of Philadelphia. “We’re hoping that we’ll leave a very fond impression, and this will certainly not be the last time Steve and his team visit Philadelphia.”

Like many stops on the Rise of the Rest tour, the day will begin with a showcase of the local culture and a tour of the city’s innovation hubs, key venture capital firms, and startups, before ending with a pitch competition, where one local startup will take home a $100,000 investment.

Charleston rising

Sahay, however, emphasizes that Philadelphia and the other stops on the tours don’t consider themselves underdogs in the American startup landscape, as each has its own claim to fame in the industry.

“It feels great to have Steve and the team coming through the city, and we are certainly going to capitalize on the opportunity, but I’ve got to say, the community here knows it’s awesome,” said Sahay. “We’re doing some great things, and we’re just excited to be able to showcase it on that national and global stage and bring more attention to our founders.”

For Case, the tour has evolved from a small project into what he hopes becomes a more complete national tour, championing the mission of both promoting startups outside the main investment hubs and bridging the gaps between innovative companies and investors operating miles apart.

“When we did the first bus tour, we weren’t quite sure what we were getting into, and thought maybe it would be the only tour,” he said. “We’ve now done 14 cities, and we’ve announced today five new cities. We’re committed to do the Southwest next spring, and in a couple-year period, we will have done a couple dozen cities in a couple dozen different states all across the country. It’s a way of doing what we can to be supportive of entrepreneurs across the country and try to create more momentum in each city.”

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Atlanta rising

Though the tour has been intensive, Case adds that it’s also been fun. Highlights include a pitch competition in New Orleans on a Mardi Gras float, and another in Charleston, South Carolina, on an aircraft carrier.

“As the visibility of the Rise of the Rest has increased and the momentum has increased, it seems like every city is going to raise the bar for themselves to try and top the previous city,” he said. “There’s going to be some crazy things happening in the upcoming cities we’re visiting.”

The Rise of the Rest tour bus will make stops in Baltimore on September 28, Philadelphia on September 29, Buffalo, New York, on September 30, Manchester, New Hampshire, on October 1, and Portland, Maine, on October 2.

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About the author

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist born, raised and residing in Toronto, covering technology, entrepreneurship, entertainment and more for a wide variety of publications in Canada, the United States and around the world. When he's not playing with gadgets, interviewing entrepreneurs or traveling to music festivals and tech conferences you can usually find him diligently practicing his third-person bio writing skills.

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