Moving America Forward

The Guy Who Ran AOL Is Trying to Build New Silicon Valleys in the Heartland

August 6, 2014
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The Guy Who Ran AOL Is Trying to Build New Silicon Valleys in the Heartland
Steve Case, Chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC and co-founder of AOL. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Steve Case sets out to find entrepreneurs in unlikely places.

Former CEO of AOL Steve Case is tired of investing in Silicon Valley’s batch of startups and is instead hitting the road in search of smart ideas located elsewhere in the U.S.

In an effort to reinvigorate American entrepreneurship, Case and his investment firm, Revolution, launched a four-day-long, 1,000-mile bus tour called Rise of the Rest Road Tour, searching for new startups. With recent stops through Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Nashville, Case was joined with appearances from Governors Rick Snyder and Bill Haslam as well as chairman and founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures, Dan Gilbert, and United States Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker among others.

We wanted to shed spotlight on American entrepreneurship: the idea of getting on a bus, and driving through the heartland of America.  After all, the story of entrepreneurship is tied to the heartland.  60 years ago, Detroit was the Silicon Valley of today,” Case told Forbes. “Pittsburgh was the steel capital.  They were the main event. Now can they can re-emerge.  It’s fascinating to see communities like Pittsburgh where there’s a specialized focus on robotics, because of the local ties with Carnegie Mellon.”

Though Case is excited by the vast opportunities nationwide, the key to successful entrepreneurship in some of these cities relies on four principles:

Leadership support: Community leaders, lawmakers and business leaders who have already achieved success in their own ventures need to prop up the city and support efforts to build an entrepreneurial community.

Investment: While Silicon Valley boasts a variety of venture capital firms to support local companies, other cities across the country are lacking the capital to get started. More firms should use Revolution’s model and begin paying attention to startups outside the California region.

Foster talent: More and more urban areas are losing talent to technology companies located on the West Coast. Cities can provide incentives to encourage young innovators and entrepreneurs to return home and support the local economy.

Build a network: Case points to “network density” as a means of enhancing local entrepreneurship. Cities like Cincinnati partner with Proctor & Gamble (which is headquartered there), as well as Detroit’s General Electric as companies that provide local resources to foster entrepreneurship. Building those relationships and creating local networks is essential to creating a tech economy.

Case contends the rest of the country is indeed rising, but it’s up to us to support the revolution and help the heartland become a part of the American innovation story.

MORE: Big Bets: How Teaching Entrepreneurship Can Keep Kids in School

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