Steve Case Makers

AOL Founder Brings Tech Money to States America Left Behind

A tech boom is coming to the third coast, and it's about time.

As tech experts and investors begin to see the entrepreneurial potential in flyover states, the tech boom may no longer be a hermetic wealth bonanza isolated in coastal metropolises. In states where many residents feel they’ve been left behind by the decline of industrial jobs, the alternatives are starting to look promising. Skeptical? Here’s the scoop.

Steve Case—the founder of AOL—is at the frontier of startup-land inviting all of America to have a piece of the pie, both at the policy and business level. During the Obama Administration, he encouraged policies that would defer student loan payments for new graduates, making it easier for them to start their own businesses. At the business level, he has led many road trips across America in an RV, stopping in cities like Nashville and Albuquerque to lead startup competitions, awarding a pretty penny to the winner. Now, he’s trying to turn this into an unstoppable movement.

Rise of the Rest, a seed fund headed by Case and J.D. Vance (author of a best-selling book about the industrial decline), is beginning to attract some of the biggest investors in the world. Think Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon) and Howard Schulz (the chairman of Starbucks). It may, in fact, be the largest investment fund in America, ever.


Rise of the Rest's startup convention in Denver
Rise of the Rest’s startup convention in Denver. Photo: Colorado Biz Magazine


It is intended to operate as an ecosystem quite like Silicon Valley – providing support and connections to people from more isolated parts of the country. In this way, small towns and big cities will work more collaboratively giving new companies in flyover states better chances to take off.

To be clear—this isn’t impact investing (although Case admits he’s a big fan of it). “We actually didn’t position this as an impact fund. First and foremost, our goal was to generate top returns,” Case told the New York Times.

One of the investors in Rise of the Rest—Mr. Schmidt of Alphabet—believes Case’s idea is brilliant. “I felt it was a no-brainer,” he told the New York Times. “There is a large selection of relatively undervalued businesses in the heartland between the coasts, some of which can scale quickly.”

If you want to learn more about folks inviting the middle slice of America into the tech conversation, read our piece on Rural Sourcing Inc., pioneers of ‘rural onshoring’—meaning, they keep jobs from going overseas by connecting coastal companies with folks in rural parts of America who are happy to work for less than Silicon Valley wage because their cost of living is less.


Nothing Stops Detroit
Rise of the Rest stops in Detroit. Photo: Xconomy
Common Ground Foundation Makers

Common Ground Foundation Asks Youth to Find Their Spark and Follow it

Hip-hop's Common is bringing fresh perspectives to the world of education.

Academy award-winning actor, hip-hop artist, and writer Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.—better known as Common—founded a non-profit with the belief that education should constantly be evolving to adapt to new ideas.

Common Ground Foundation provides mentorship to high school students and hosts youth-focused summer camps and conferences around the country. They hope to nurture their students to become informed citizens who are active in creating a sustainable future.

“I always believed that if we started with the youth then we would be planting the seeds for our future to blossom,” it says in their mission statement. “Give the children a sense of hope, self-esteem, and love that will better the world.”


What makes Common Ground particularly unique in comparison to other after-school programs is the idea of a reciprocal relationship between student and mentor. Ideas, opinions, and personal interests are welcome additions from students. Common Ground wants students to find what sparks their curiosity and to run with it, whatever it is.

“We have to relate to one another,” Common says. “Teachers have to know how to relate. If we can relate as educators, and teachers and school systems to the youth, they will receive it and retain it. And go out and apply it at a higher level.”

Their programs focus on character development, finding a healthy lifestyle, literacy in global leadership, tech and finances, and the importance of social impact.

Common knows that a little self-esteem and support can go a long way. Through this positive impact he hopes to see poverty go down and education go up.



Feature photo:

Rise Up

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