By Carlo Versano
Steve Case has been traveling the country in search of the next big thing, and he's eyeing Florida and Puerto Rico for the next leg of his journey.
The former AOL CEO wants to find ー and invest in ー entrepreneurs outside the major coastal tech hub through his Rise of the Rest initiative. He told Cheddar Friday that the next big wave of innovation will come from the heartland, and he's putting his money where his mouth is. Rise of the Rest is armed with $150 million in venture capital, and has been to 38 cities so far. Case and his partners will hit four more in Florida before heading to Puerto Rico. In each stop, the seed-stage company that wins a pitch competition receives a $100,000 investment.
Case said he wants to "level the playing field for entrepreneurs everywhere" and shine a spotlight on the innovation in cities beyond Boston, New York, and Silicon Valley, which are home to 75 percent of venture capital funding.
We think of the coasts as breeding grounds for the hottest startups, but that wasn't always the case. As Case noted, some of the most successful companies that came out of the first tech boom ー think Gateway ($GTW), Microsoft ($MSFT), AOL ー didn't get their start in Silicon Valley.
Now, some of the most innovative ideas and disruptive products are being launched in unexpected places, Case said, particularly in fields like healthcare, smart cities, and the food industry.
Rise of the Rest isn't a charity, though. The seed money is coming from a group of prolific investors, Case said, who are investing in anticipation of high returns. Case said he hopes when Rise starts making returns on its investments that more wealth and jobs will spread across the country.
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