AN FRANCISCO — Steve Case, who helped foment the Internet age as AOL's co-founder, has crisscrossed the country the last few years championing a new revolution: the third wave of the Internet.
Just as the technology boom lifted the economies of Silicon Valley, New York and other coastal cities, its latest iteration will benefit the Midwest and other pockets of the U.S. as health care, energy, agriculture, education and other industries become ripe for disruption.
Such is the thesis of his 3-year-old initiative, Rise of the Rest. In an interview with USA TODAY, Case discussed the rise of tech start-up ecosystems in America's heartland.
Q: What got you launched on this mission?
A: I was working more on the policy side. And then a little over three years ago, we decided to hit the road and do these Rise of the Rest bus tours. We have done five so far and we are planning our next one in October
I concluded that while advocating for policies that are pro-innovation, pro-entrepreneurship, pro-start-up, it's something I continue to do, but there also was a role to play I felt in terms of trying to be a catalyst within some of these cities and helping to build more of a network effect and network density in these cities and shine a spotlight on what's happening with entrepreneurs in these cities to attract more media and attract more investor attention.
Each city is different but there are dynamics kicking in across all of them that are encouraging and ultimately will result in more start-ups in more places and will ultimately level the playing field so everybody everywhere really does feel like they have a shot at the American dream and so we are creating economic growth and jobs everywhere not just in a few places.
Q: What is it about Midwest cities that makes them uniquely attractive to entrepreneurs and investors?
A: I'd say some general reasons. There are a lot of people who have a connection to these cities: they grew up there, went to school there, have some affinity and they'd rather live there and raise their families there. There are also some financial considerations. Money raised goes a lot further.
As for city specific reasons, each of these cities has an interesting history and some of that history and some of that perspective and some of that culture and some of that DNA is increasingly helpful as we shift to the third wave of the Internet, which is less about the software and the apps and more about integrating technology and the Internet in important aspects of our lives and disrupting big sectors of the economy. I think partnerships are going to become more important and being closer to some of the big companies, many of which are in the middle of the country, is important.