There's more to tech startups than Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston. So says AOL co-founder Steve Case, whose latest venture, Rise of the Rest, is a $150 million seed fund that seeks to find the top startups outside the regular hubs.
To accomplish that goal, Case’s Rise of the Rest bus tour visits a different area of the country every year. In each city he and his team of investors visit, they award a $100,000 prize to the winner of a pitch competition. In 2019, the spotlight falls on Florida and Puerto Rico.
A prominent Rise of the Rest investor is Tampa’s Jeff Vinik — the Tampa Bay Lighting owner who recently launched Embarc Collective, a startup incubator and innovation hub — so it comes as little surprise that Case’s Rise of the Rest Pitch Competition bus tour made a stop recently in the Tampa Bay area.
During the pitch competition held May 1 at ConnectWise headquarters in Tampa, Case and his team of investors heard pitches from Guestbox, Immertec, Pocket Network, WorldWatch Plus, COI Energy Services, Presence, RankMiner and the Natural Nipple, a company the Business Observer profiled in December. The event also included a “fireside chat” between Case and Vinik.
Case’s visit also included a stop across the bay in St. Petersburg, where he toured the downtown offices of InsideOut, a sales innovation company run by Chad Nuss. He's a Silicon Valley expatriate who’s since become an unabashed evangelist for the Tampa Bay area’s startup scene.
In a press release, Case says investors have long overlooked the strength and potential of startups in Florida, and his tour is a way to rectify that.
“Every election cycle Florida is in the national spotlight for what the state’s votes say about the future of the country, but we believe the focus should also be on the state’s entrepreneurial communities and the companies that will drive our nation forward,” Case states in the release. “Startups are responsible for nearly all net new job creation and with Florida’s size and diversity, the state can help lead the way.