Steve Case started his “Rise of the Rest” bus tours four years ago, with the aim of showcasing startup companies in emerging innovation ecosystems across the United States. On May 9, the America Online co-founder will bring the tour to Birmingham for an entrepreneurial pitch competition, with the winner receiving a $100,000 investment.
Today, March 20, is the deadline for entrepreneurs to submit their applications for the competition on the Rise of the Rest Road Trip website.
“The Rise of the Rest bus tour is helping to raise the visibility of promising startups in cities across the country,” Case said in announcing the upcoming tour, which will visit Dallas, Memphis, Chattanooga and Louisville, in addition to Birmingham. “For the past four years, we have been encouraged by the entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders we’ve met on our tours and are excited to invest catalytic capital into these Rise of the Rest regions.”
The bus tour is supported by Revolution, an investment firm based in Washington, D.C., of which Case is chairman and CEO. The investments to be made in Birmingham and the other cities on the current tour will come from the ROTR Seed Fund, a $150 million fund launched last December by Case and author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, who serves as its managing partner. The fund is focused on investing in promising seed stage companies located outside the established innovation hubs of Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston.
“It’s encouraging to see the interesting businesses and growth potential of startups in these cities,” Vance said when the tour was announced in February. “We’ve witnessed firsthand the potential for startup ecosystems to transform economies, and believe by investing in these companies early, we are capitalizing on long-term trends.”
That enthusiasm is evident in the roster of individuals backing the ROTR Seed Fund, a group the Revolution website refers to as “iconic entrepreneurs, executives and investors.” It includes such well-known names as Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, former eBay and Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, media titan and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Megan Smith, the former Google executive who served as chief technology officer of the United States under President Barack Obama.
Being included on the Rise of the Rest bus tour is one of several recent announcements that are indicative of Birmingham’s ascendance as a center of technology and innovation. February also saw the launch of Bronze Valley, an initiative focused on diversifying the technology economy in Birmingham and Alabama by creating an education-to-opportunity-to-outcome pipeline for communities currently underrepresented in technology careers, as entrepreneurs and in other fields where innovators will lead the way in creating the jobs of the future.
Earlier this month, Birmingham was announced as one of five winners in the 2018 Smart Cities Readiness Challenge grant competition. The city plans to use the grant to provide a collaborative framework for accelerating ongoing initiatives that include an open data portal, smart street lighting, community Wi-Fi, bus rapid transit and the crime-reduction initiative Operation Step Up.
“This is an exciting time for Birmingham,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “The Rise of the Rest bus tour and the focus it brings to the role technology and innovation are playing in the present and future of our city will further increase the tremendous momentum we continue to build.”