With the election season kicking into full gear, I’m hitting the road with scheduled stops during the next few months in Detroit, Raleigh, Denver, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Dallas, and many more cities.
Only, I’m not looking for swing voters. I’m looking for passionate entrepreneurs with startups that can change the world.
It is worth reminding ourselves that the United States of America itself once was a startup, powered by the idea of freedom and liberty and new possibilities. We have come a long way from that circa 1776 startup and now we’re a global power, with the world’s largest economy. This didn’t happen by accident; it was the work of entrepreneurs building companies and entire industries. The agricultural revolution drove the South, then the industrial revolution powered the Midwest, then media and financial services propelled the East, and more recently, technology has unleashed the West. Each of these waves of innovation has triggered a wave of growth – and these collective, successive waves have made us the world’s most entrepreneurial nation.
I’ve been fortunate to be part of the most recent wave, the digital revolution. When we started AOL back in 1985, only about three percent of consumers were online, and they were online an average of just an hour a week. A lot has happened in the past 27 years! Now, the Internet is a ubiquitous part of everyday life, and thousands of companies have emerged. The epicenter of this has been Silicon Valley, and the network density there makes it much easier to start and scale digital companies. But more recently, we’ve seen more great companies emerge all across the country.
And that’s why I’m hitting the road. I believe Silicon Valley will remain the most important entrepreneurial ecosystem, but in the next decade we’ll see an acceleration of innovation and entrepreneurship all across the nation. As the cost of starting companies continues to decline, and connectivity makes it easier for entrepreneurs to hire the best talent from across the US, the “rise of the rest” will give entrepreneurs more flexibility to start companies where they prefer to live.
I’m taking this trip with three different hats on, looking to help entrepreneurs in three different ways: as an investor, an advocate for pro-entrepreneurial policies, and as a leader of a nonprofit effort to find help for startups. Thankfully, great strides are being made on all of these fronts, to support this “rise of the rest” and also to take the necessary steps to ensure we remain the world’s most entrepreneurial country. I’ll be working on all three while I am touring the country.
First, as an investor (and CEO of Revolution), our firm is putting our money where our mouth is. We plan to make more than 80 percent of our investments outside of Silicon Valley (by contrast, most California-based investors focus on California companies). So I’m kicking off this tour of the nation, seeking to find the next generation of great built-to-last companies.
As an advocate of bipartisan pro-entrepreneurship legislation I was proud to play a role earlier this year, when President Obama and Majority Leader Cantor struck a bipartisan deal and passed the JOBS Act. The JOBS Act legalizes securities-based crowdfunding, so that early stage companies can raise capital from a broad group of individual investors. When crowdfunding takes effect early next year, more entrepreneurs will have the ability to raise capital to start and grow their companies. Crowdfunding will be particularly helpful to entrepreneurs in regions or sectors that don’t get much attention from venture capitalists.
Finally, as Chair of the nonprofit Startup America Partnership, I’m focused on fostering vibrant entrepreneurial communities across the country. These regional initiatives seek to pool together all of the assets in a given region that are critical to driving business formation and job creation in that local economy. For example, Startup Tennessee is launching nine business accelerators throughout the state to serve as primary meeting spaces for entrepreneurs to connect with local companies, mentors, advisers, investors, major corporations, service providers, and government organizations.
To be sure, Nashville’s startup economy won’t replicate Palo Alto’s. But now more than ever, cities like Nashville will be able to foster entrepreneurial activity on a more robust scale by taking advantage of technological advances, new fundraising alternatives, and partnership opportunities that did not exist just a few years ago. Considering that startups created 40 million American jobs in the last three decades – all of the country’s net job growth during that period – ushering in a new wave of entrepreneurial activity is essential.
I’m excited to be hitting the road, to champion entrepreneurship, help build regional ecosystems, and find the next great companies. It used to be that entrepreneurs had to board planes to seek out investors in faraway cities; now the investors are boarding planes to seek out the entrepreneurs!
A new era has begun.