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Audio [7:06]: Why Steve Case is bringing Revolution’s Rise of the Rest to Tampa

Margie Manning

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Click the arrow above to play Margie Manning’s exclusive interview with Steve Case. 

Note: Story updated at 1:10 pm to reflect comments from a St. Pete Catalyst interview with Steve Case.

The Rise of the Rest Bus Tour, an initiative to spotlight promising startups in areas outside of the major tech hubs, will stop in Tampa on Wednesday, May 1.

During the stop, there will be a startup pitch competition, with a $100,000 investment for the winner.

Applications to take part in the competition are here.

“We love backing entrepreneurs with big bold ideas who want to change the world and we’ve found those entrepreneurs are everywhere in the country, not just in a few places. We want to champion them and do what we can to strengthen the startup communities in those rising cities,”  Steve Case, chairman and CEO of Revolution, told St. Pete Catalyst, shortly after announcing the initiative during a Friday morning appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Revolution is a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm that powers Rise of the Rest, which has visited 38 cities since 2014. Rise of the Rest launched a $150 million seed fund just over a year ago.

Tampa is one of four Florida cities Rise of the Rest will visit from April 29-May 2, wrapping up the week with a visit to Puerto Rico. It’s the first time Rise of the Rest has spent the majority of a tour in a single state and the first time it has visited a U.S. territory.

Tampa’s economy has been heavily dependent on real estate, but it has a burgeoning tech ecosystem, aided by large military and defense installations that provide talent for the startup ecosystem, Rise of the Rest said in a news release.

Additionally, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, the backer of Embarc Collective, is an investor in Rise of the Rest’s seed fund.

“Jeff’s involvement and all the things he’s doing there are exciting but we have some history in that region. We invested more than a decade ago in a fintech company that ended up being called Revolution Money and eventually got sold to American Express,” Case said. “It was based there and I visited for meetings there. We’ve been aware of Tampa for a while and for the last few years have been watching it as it developed a stronger startup and tech ecosystem.”

From an investment standpoint, startups outside of major tech hubs offer an arbitrage opportunity.

“Most venture capital is focused on a few places. Seventy-five percent of venture capital is in three states…Valuations in places like Silicon Valley tend to get bid up and valuations in places like Tampa Bay tend to be a little more modest, so there’s an opportunity on that side,” Case said. “We also recognize that most jobs in this country are created by startups — not by big companies, not by small businesses, but by high-growth startups. By backing startups everywhere we’re hopeful over time that will result in creating jobs everywhere and creating a more inclusive innovation economy where more people in more places feel optimistic about the future as opposed to fearing they might be left behind.”

The day of the Rise of the Rest tour will be hectic, Case said. It kicks off with a breakfast, to bring together business leaders, entrepreneurs, elected officials, nonprofits and universities. Then, a tour bus will drive around to visit accelerators, universities and companies to see operations first-hand. The day ends with the pitch competition and a startup celebration party.

“It’s a full day and our goal is to learn more about what’s happening and tell those stories to people in other parts of the country and also to identify promising entrepreneurs to invest in, and to hopefully do what we can to create a sense of possibility and momentum and drive more collaboration,” he said.

Rise of the Rest stays involved after the site visit. It has hosted three summits, bringing together  about 100 startup community leaders at one summit, regional venture capitalists at another and the entrepreneurs it backed through its seed fund at the most recent summit.

“The follow-up is super important to continue to build out the network, not just in each city but across these different cities so we have a broad Rise of the Rest ecosystem,” Case said.

Closeup: Making the pitch

The secret to making a successful pitch to Rise of the Rest Seed Fund is pretty simple.

“We’re just looking for great entrepreneurs on the cusp of building great companies,” Case said.

The fund is open to a variety of different sectors including healthcare, education, transportation, food, agriculture and software.

“One of the things that’s exciting to us as we travel around the country is seeing the mix of entrepreneurs doing a diverse array of things,” Case said.

About 80 to 100 companies generally apply to pitch, with eight selected to make presentations.

“Although we end up with our panel of judges picking one to invest in, we’re hopeful that by showcasing all eight and having an audience of hundreds of people listening to those pitches, that will lead all of them to get funding, more customers and potential partnerships, and more visibility,” Case said. “It’s about helping to strengthen the overall startup community as opposed to backing one company.”

 

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