Twice a year since 2014, AOL co-founder Steve Case and his Rise of the Rest team have loaded onto a bus and hit the road to visit emerging startup communities in the U.S. Through the initiative, he has visited 26 cities including Detroit, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Madison, Philadelphia, New Orleans and more. The purpose of the venture-driven voyage is to identify and invest in companies fueling innovation in cities outside of the saturated Silicon Valley, New York and Boston markets that account for nearly 75% of venture capital invested in the U.S. each year. The team knows that innovation is happening everywhere and to overlook it would be to ignore a major opportunity. That’s why they chose Columbus, Ohio as the fourth stop of their upcoming five-day tour.
“Steve believes we’re entering a new era of technology and entrepreneurship he refers to as the Third Wave,” said Anna Mason, Director of Investments at Revolution, the D.C. based investment firm Case heads. “He’s really passionate that in this new era and believes companies outside the densely populated investment areas are uniquely positioned to thrive and excel and win in the Third Wave because of things like skills, infrastructure and industry. They’re positioned not despite the fact that they’re located outside of the three main hubs where investments flows, but specifically because they are located outside of the three major hubs.”
One of these solutions is Liberty Mobility Now, which is leveraging advancements in technology and growing interconnectedness to build an innovative on-demand ride service, in the style of Lyft or Uber, for rural, underserved communities. Liberty is one of eight companies that will compete in a pitch competition for an investment.
“The opportunity to showcase our company to an investor panel focused on Third Wave innovation is incredible validation that we’re at the right place at the right time in technology,” said Valerie Lefler, President & CEO of Liberty Mobility Now. “We’re truly a Third Wave startup–working through complicated regulations in the transportation and healthcare field to solve a decades old barrier of mobility in rural and small urban communities.”
The tour seeks out cities with the right talent and infrastructure in place to foster growth and innovation, characteristics they saw clearly in Columbus through programs like Ohio Third Frontier, Rev1 Ventures, NCT Ventures, The Idea Foundry, BLK Hack and more.
“We look closely at the regional investor landscape including the types of public-private partnerships in place to support entrepreneurship,” said Mason. “University and research institutions are also important to drive discovery and advancement, and Columbus checks all of the boxes with top talent. The community resources set entrepreneurs up for success.”
These partnerships provide the tools startups need to get off the ground, scale their businesses and drive innovation in the state forward.
“Growing Liberty in Ohio has been one of the smartest decisions in our company’s history, said Lefler. The regulatory framework, growth incentives, support mechanisms, and investor funding opportunities have exceeded our expectations in helping our company thrive.”
Case personally invests $100,000 into the winners of each of the five city pitch competitions along the tour. The tour is a collaborative effort between Case’s venture capital firm, Revolution, and partners like Google for Entrepreneurs, Salesforce for Startups, PayPal, and several others. At every stop, the Rise of the Rest team visits with the fastest growing local startups, hears directly from innovators, spends time with community and business leaders, and hosts a party to celebrate with the community. Case will be joined by Ohio native and New York Times Bestselling Author JD Vance as well as author Eric Ries, Amy Nelson of Venture for America, David Hall of Revolution and Cathy Belk of Jumpstart, Inc.
Phil George, President & CEO of MentorCliq, says an investment from Rise of the Rest would help him take his company’s operations to new levels.
“We love that the Rise of the Rest Tour brings attention to tech startups outside of the coastal cities to cities like ours here in Ohio. We have grown from our first customer here in our backyard of Columbus to having customers on 6 continents. An investment in MentorCliq would help us expand our global customer base.”
The eight finalists in Rise of the Rest’s pitch competition:
- Liberty Mobility Now
- Nikola Labs
- SHARE (formerly AVE AutoMedia)
- Solutions Vending International
“Our team believes in the mission and message of Rise of the Rest and our aim is to embody every aspect. Columbus is a city on the Rise and Nikola Labs, as a spinout from The Ohio State University, will contribute to the success of our community,” said Will Zell, CEO of Nikola Labs. “We’re an early leader in a huge market with technology that can change the world. We are excited and honored to share our story with the Rise of the Rest group.”
The tour’s stop in Columbus is a validation of what many in the state already knew; Ohio is uniquely positioned to succeed as drivers of technology and innovation because of the strong institutions and resources that put it at the forefront.