The Rise of the Restless: 3 Takeaways from My Afternoon with Steve Case

In his countrywide celebration of American entrepreneurship, “Rise of the Rest” — which is both a social platform and a bus tour engineered to encourage entrepreneurial energy and reward it — Steve Case did not shy away from his point of view that we need entrepreneurs and we need to think long term.

You know Steve or at least you know his work. In addition to co-founding AOL and currently serving as CEO of DC-based venture capital firm, Revolution, he is also renowned for his stamp on Startup America Partnership, Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure, Malaria No More, and many other important and influential organizations.

Thirty years ago, Steve founded AOL to make “the internet more personal,” and today he’s still making things personal — asking anyone he meets on his “Rise of the Rest” tour to take a stake in entrepreneurialism.

And not to question a thinker like Steve Case, but I wrestled with his concept of “the rest.” On the one hand, it has a justice element that is much needed in our world, but on the other, it can feel a little demeaning as if “the rest” can’t do it on their own. They don’t have the vision. They lack the gusto. Their connections are inadequate. And, we need to give special attention to these groups. But after spending an afternoon with Mr. Case this past week during his Denver stop, I realize this tour and this concept of “the rest” is anything but demeaning. Rather “Rise of the Rest” is a battle cry for each of us to celebrate, open our eyes, think comprehensively and take action at a critical time for our country and our culture. While my visit with Steve was enjoyable and entertaining, it also served as catalyst for me to revisit my commitment to entrepreneurialism.

Over lunch there were stats — important stats — like how 75 percent of VC funds are directed toward companies in California, Massachusetts and New York (reminder, Steve visited Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Phoenix and Omaha/Lincoln). Or, how 90 percent of VC funds are delivered to male-run organizations and startups. A quick survey of the attending audience alone — and that funding number was not representative of those driving innovation. Perhaps the most troubling — only 1 percent of funds land with an African-American organization or startup. Quite unsettling statistics.

According to the Denver Post, Case looks to invest in companies that are changing the world, disrupting their industries and building something for the greater good. In more than two years, he’s traveled 4,000 miles to 19 cities in a bus, investing $2 million in local startups.

“Seventy five years ago, Detroit was Silicon Valley. And at the same time, 75 years ago, Silicon Valley was fruit orchards,” Case said, while on the bus en route to Battery 621, an early coworking space in Denver that focuses on outdoor and lifestyle startups. “Things can change.”

Steve’s platform was not just about pointing out the shortcomings of the immediate landscape, not just about directing funding and support to these marginalized groups who are in-flight with their innovations. What I took away from the talk was a personal responsibility (and a perceived assignment to every person in the room) to think about the long-term. Think about how each of us can bring an entrepreneurial spirit to the table every day, about how this active pursuit will provide for generations to come.

I’m a believer in what Steve has started with his tour. There is an inadequate distribution of attention, funding, infrastructure, mentoring and a myriad of other necessities to those considered “the rest.” But if I didn’t know better, I would say Steve’s larger message is to America’s restless — that we may answer the call to live entrepreneurialism as a value. How do we do this?

1. Start now. Take an assessment of your current situation. Look for areas in your life where you can create — whether that be in your job, your company, your home.

2. It’s a mindset. Don’t think entrepreneurship means you have to be the CEO or founder. This is something you can bring to every area of your life.

3. Give it your all. The great entrepreneurs before us “left it all on the field.” The worst that can happen is you get to the end and have regrets.

I welcome your thoughts. Michael McFadden

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