That’s what it looks like when you win $100,000 in three minutes.
Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest bus tour stop in Portland was a seminal moment for Rapport. Before that night in October 2015, we had built a primitive version of our platform, sold it a few times, and scraped together some seed funding. In one stroke, Steve, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick and the three other judges validated our mission, business model, and vision.
They also instantly boosted our profile in the media and with investors and customers — no small thing for a new startup operating under the radar in a tiny city (population 65,000) far outside of the conventional epicenters of New York, San Francisco, and Boston.
This is the essence of the Rise of the Rest concept: visit areas underserved by traditional venture capital — something like 75% of all VC money goes to companies in those three cities—bring along a giant check, and give them a shot.
Last week, in Washington, DC, Steve Case’s venture capital firm, Revolution, convened the first Rise of the Rest summit. There, I had a chance to meet roughly two dozen other entrepreneurs from smaller cities across the U.S. who are living out some version of this story.
I also got a look at the legion of city, state, and regional “ecosystem builders” who are helping to cultivate environments conducive to startup success — including Portland’s own startup MacGyver, Jess Knox — in cities like Omaha, St. Louis, Atlanta, and Chattanooga.
These people are redefining what thoughtful, innovative economic development looks like in 2017. (Unsurprisingly, Maine’s unfrozen caveman governor, Paul LePage, recently tried to slash funding to a number of the organizations carrying out this work in our state a few weeks ago.)
All of the startups that won the Rise of the Rest are interesting and working on significant issues. They are developing medical devices for emerging markets; advancing building efficiency; and creating software to enhance senior living and home automation. It’s clear that there is good work being done in small and midsized cities across the country.
Personally, it was therapeutic to hear about other founders’ struggles that are specific to starting up in small cities, as well as those that are likely universal. And it was helpful to consider Rapport in a larger context and community, in addition to the very supportive local scene in Maine. In fact, the larger community — this burgeoning network of startups in smaller cities — in the aggregate, rivals New York, Boston, or San Francisco.
In every founder I met last week, I saw a willingness to help — by making introductions to customers, investors, partners. For my part, I am committed to helping this macro-network of micro-cities continue to expand and strengthen its bonds. To offer whatever help I can to other startups in smaller cities — in “flyover” states and on the coasts — that don’t get sufficient attention or capital.
So, to the other RotR founders out there — hell, any startup founder in Portland, or anywhere— consider this an open invitation: if you need something, just ask.
Justin Jaffe is the cofounder of Rapport, a startup that helps big companies reduce their supply chain’s environmental impact. Learn more at www.rapport.io.