The co-founder of America Online is coming to Memphis this May with his investment fund to hear pitches from local startup companies and award $100,000 in seed funding to one of them.
Steve Case, the chairman and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based venture capital firm Revolution, and venture capitalist and author J.D. Vance are leading the second leg of the current Rise of the Rest bus tour. Rise of the Rest is also the name of the seed fund.
Memphis is one of five cities on the tour, along with Birmingham, Alabama; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Dallas, Texas; and Louisville, Kentucky. The Rise of the Rest effort, which is in its fourth year, is backed with a $150 million fund.
The Memphis event was announced Wednesday, Feb. 14, by financial and investment planner David Waddell after what he described as a “rigorous due-diligence phase.”
Memphis nonprofit entrepreneurship hub EPIcenter applied to host a stop on the tour.
“We had to have multiple conversation and interviews and provide all kinds of documents and information about Memphis,” said Leslie Lynn Smith, president and CEO of EPIcenter. “It was definitely competitive and a long process.”
Waddell said the visit will “bring attention to all of the work that’s happening here.”
“It’s from the bottom up to support entrepreneurs and to radically transform this community through entrepreneurship,” he said.
EPIcenter started taking applications Wednesday from startups that want a chance to pitch to the Revolution panel in May. The pitches will come after comments by Case and Vance.
Vance, who is managing partner of Rise of the Rest, is best known as the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir of his upbringing in Appalachia. Other investors in the fund are former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Google vice president Megan Smith, economist Roger Ferguson and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman.
The “Rise of the Rest” branding is a reference to cities beyond well-established startup hubs like Silicon Valley and New York City.
“I think that’s their entire theory of change, is that the coasts are sort of well-managed and funded,” Smith said. “But there’s a lot of great innovation and invention that is going on in cities across America.”
The Revolution team, which will include local partners, will invest $100,000 in one of the startups that pitch during the May 8 bus tour of the city. Those not picked will also make contacts that could come into play later.
“We are now expanding our network of opportunity around investment and advising to far beyond the regional reach – to a national and global reach,” Smith said. “This isn’t a sort of one-and-done transaction. We believe this is the beginning to a deeper relationship with this group of folks.”
The capital probably will be for “early stage investments” past the preseed period for a startup.
Rise of the Rest’s latest investments include a greenhouse farm in Kentucky aimed at shortening the distance in the produce supply chain, a 30-second property-title transaction using blockchain technology in Ohio, and a platform to manage and optimize cloud subscriptions in Indiana.