By Carlo Versano
Steve Case was, in many ways, ahead of his time when he co-founded America Online. As the CEO of 1990s tech giant, he helped pioneer the early framework for social media and was among the first executives to realize that a user-friendly internet experience based on social engagement would be attractive to early adopters.
His hunch was correct ー AOL's dial-up subscription model grew to a peak of 27 million users in 2002.
About twenty years and one disastrous merger later, Case is using his status as a sort-of elder statesman of tech to reward the innovation taking place outside of Silicon Valley with his VC firm Revolution.
Speaking to Cheddar at Denver Startup Week on Monday, Case cited the Colorado city as a case study: 2 percent unemployment, a burgeoning and exciting technology sector, and a young population drawn to the mountain air.
Denver is so competitive that start-ups have trouble filling positions, he said.
"That's a nice problem to have."
Case's firm created the "Rise of the Rest" seed fund to direct VC money to innovative companies operating on the fringes. So far, the fund has made 90 investments in 50 cities from Minneapolis to Chattanooga, Tenn., to Des Moines, Iowa. Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York are deliberately excluded.
Three-quarters of venture capital funds overall still go to the coasts (Denver gets about 1 percent), though Case is trying to tip the balance by personally advocating for cities where he sees innovation happening. He has invested in several Denver-based start-ups over the years, including Exclusive Resorts and World Waters, make of WTRMLN WTR.
"Every big company starts as a start-up," he said. "Some of [them] will be the Fortune 500 companies of tomorrow."
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