At each stop—in cities like Des Moines, Birmingham, Detroit, and Phoenix—Case attempts to shine a spotlight on what is happening in each particular innovation ecosystem. With the backing of his investment firm, Revolution, and it’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Case plants $100,000 checks along his route, bringing seed funding to parts of America heretofore left barren of startup cash.
For Case, who made his mark on the business world as the founding CEO of America Online, these road trips aren’t charity benefit tours for under-funded entrepreneurs in America’s startup backwaters. They’re high-visibility advertisements for what he believes the future of economic prosperity in the U.S. requires: an uplifting of the thousands of innovators in places that are not Wall Street or Silicon Valley, and who don’t make tech for tech’s sake, but harness it to enhance real-world sectors like health, education, transportation, energy, and food.
Case calls this initiative the Rise of the Rest—a titular nod to the places, people, and industries left behind by the recent wave of services and apps that used the internet to reshape entire economies (think Facebook). The title also doubles as a warning: that a third wave of internet-based innovation is about to roll, and that the wise are already catching the tide.
On September 12, 2018, Case visited Columbia University’s Low Library to talk about how this third wave of internet innovation will impact economies, public policy, and entrepreneurship in the near future. He was joined in discussion by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, a visiting professor at SIPA, and by Dean Merit E. Janow as moderator.
Case delivered his perspective to the hundreds of Columbia students, alumni, faculty, and guests assembled in the library’s atrium with the certainty of a preacher spreading gospel. His sermon was clear: for America to remain a global innovation leader, it must include all its people, and all of its places.
“We need to do whatever we can to level the playing field so everybody everywhere feels like they have a shot,” Case said. “It’s not just the right thing to do from a fairness standpoint — although of course it is — but it’s the smart thing to do from an economic vitality standpoint. We need all those ideas out there on the marketplace if we want to continue being the most innovative country in the world.”
When asked by Janow about what entrepreneurs need in order to succeed in a third-wave Information Age economy, Case quoted from his topically named 2017 book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur's Vision of the Future.
His go-to advice — follow the three Ps:
Perseverance. Entrepreneurs will soon face hard-system challenges similar to those of the tech sector in the 1980s, like getting enough customers into a new system. Sticking with it pays; after all, Case describes AOL as “an overnight success 10 years in the making.”
Partnerships. Gone are the days of flash-pan dot-com hits, Case says. Webs of alliances and stakeholder buy-in are vital. “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” Case said, referencing an oft-quoted proverb.
Policy. The government understanding, and appropriately legislating, business and emerging technology trends is as important as ever. Case uses the early days of AOL as an example: “It was illegal for consumers or businesses to connect to the internet.”
"To be successful in the #ThirdWave you need a different mindset - perseverance, partnerships and understanding policy," says @SteveCase during tonight's #RiseOfRest fireside chat at @ColumbiaSIPA. pic.twitter.com/s3lIcCEUbb— The Third Wave (@ThirdWaveBook) September 12, 2018
Lew, who served as the top economic advisor for the world's largest national economy from 2013 to 2017, emphasized the last of Case’s three Ps, focusing on the government’s role in ensuring that infrastructure and workforce education meet economic needs.
“I can’t tell you how many CEOs tell me they have jobs they can’t fill,” Lew said. Later, he added: “Sometimes, our telecommunication infrastructure is more like a third-world system than a first-world system.”
The ideas discussed during the Rise of the Rest event also fit squarely with the ethos behind SIPA’s Entrepreneurship and Policy Initiative, which a was co-sponsor of the talk along with Columbia Entrepreneurship and the Nasdaq Educational Foundation.
Janow, who has prioritized blending policy and entrepreneurship with programs like the Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant, said the event highlighted the convergence of business and policy that many SIPA graduates choose to pursue.
“This discussion with Steve Case and Secretary Lew is a wonderful opportunity to think together about how the profile across entrepreneurship is changing across America and how public policy can make a difference,” Janow said. “We’re thinking about the entrepreneurship ecosystem, and what difference public policy can make, what interventions matter, and how this is changing across American cities and cities globally.”
— Dominick Tao MPA ’19