Last week, Steve Case (entrepreneur, former CEO of AOL and now very active investor) brought a motley crew to Texas for a Rise of the Rest Road Trip tour stop in Dallas. Based around a seed fund that’s backed by notable names ranging from Jeff Bezos to Tory Burch to Howard Schultz, Rise of the Rest is singularly focused on bringing capital, talent, access and other resources to entrepreneurs in cities lesser-known as startup powerhouses than Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. (Disclosure: Case’s parent Revolution fund is an investor in one of our clients, BigCommerce.)
#RiseOfRest is now on its seventh tour installment (thus, also check out #ROTR7) and Dallas represented the 34th city along the way. At each stop, Case, author and managing partner J.D. Vance and others explore the innovation, economic forces, entrepreneurial support structure, talent pool and institutions of higher learning in that market. They no doubt absorb a bit of the local culture, flavor and suds too, holding events at venues like Community Beer Co. (Thanks for hosting!)
I’ll go on the record saying the chord that Case strikes with Rise of the Rest is downright inspirational. Case’s core message of the evening was to “seize the moment.” That’s a charge that can take a lot of different forms within the rising entrepreneurial tide between the coasts. This showcase of unique founders and disruptive businesses was an encouraging illustration of the great opportunity and spirit in tech, especially when compared to the homogeneity and sometimes impenetrable bubble of Silicon Valley.
It was inspiring to hear Case speak of the “renaissance” of Detroit: toppled as a decades-long hub of the auto industry, left for dead but now slowly rebuilding toward a perch at the bleeding edge of cross-discipline innovation.
It was inspiring to see a metropolis like Dallas – often labeled as the land of big hair and stuffy socialites – showcase such a range of diverse founders on stage for the pitch competition. Of the eight startups that pitched, four were represented by women founders or executives and an even proportion were represented by people of color, including Cameron Johnson, CEO of NICKSON, an on-demand apartment design and furnishing service that took home the $100,000 grand prize. (Johnson was also my personal pick for the most polished presenter who also happened to have the best idea and most viable business.)
It was inspiring to imagine what could yet be achieved in all of the industries that Case mentioned as still being ripe for disruption – food and agriculture, education, healthcare and more. The moment is certainly there to be seized in those segments, so long as trail blazers are willing to take the risk.
But perhaps most inspiring of all was the clear and resounding reminder that innovation can come from every corner of this great nation, driven by anyone with a great idea and the tenacity to make it a reality.
Using Rise of the Rest as a model, investors need to scour the cities between the coasts to “back a generation to create the future of the economy,” as Case put it. Media outlets – even those with reporters significantly concentrated in the Bay Area, the Big Apple or Beantown – need to find ways to share the stories of successful tech entrepreneurs from the Rust Belt to the Deep South to the Bible Belt. And we all need to look outside our bubbles to support “the rest” and celebrate how thrilling, impactful and rewarding the tech industry is, no matter where it rises.