By Richard Danielson
Tampa Bay Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Tampa Bay area was the 41st stop on the “Rise of the Rest” tour, which started in 2014 in Detroit. Along the way, Revolution and its $150 million “Rise of the Rest” Seed Fund has invested in 120 companies in 65 cities in 35 states.
Revolution rolled into town Wednesday on a big red bus, flush with cash and looking for ideas.
Revolution is the name of the Washington D.C. investment firm that chartered the bus for the Rise of the Rest tour. It’s also the purpose of the trip: To get away from the venture capital hothouses of Silicon Valley and Boston and highlight startup companies growing elsewhere, as well as to encourage them, get the attention of potential investors and support the development of the talent those young companies need.
“Over 75 percent of venture capital in this country goes to three states, California, New York and Massachusetts, (while) Florida, the third-largest state gets less than 2 percent,” said billionaire investor Steve Case, who went from founding America Online to founding Revolution and its $150 million Rise of the Rest Seed Fund.
“We’re trying to level the playing field for entrepreneurship in America,” he said, “so that everybody everywhere feels like they have a shot at the American dream, and every community is growing because startups are the main source of job growth.”
The Tampa Bay area was the 41st stop on the Rise of the Rest tour, which started in 2014 in Detroit. Along the way, the fund has invested in 120 companies in 65 cities in 35 states.
One of the first, a Detroit company called StockX, is poised to close on a new round of investment that will put its valuation at nearly $1 billion.
The bay area was the third stop on the latest Rise of the Rest tour, which visited Orlando and the Space Coast Monday and Tuesday, and is headed to Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico Thursday and Friday.
“This is a good day for our region,” said J.P. DuBuque, president of the nonprofit Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. “It’s all about visibility. … Hopefully, we’ll get visibility for some of our companies, and they’ll grow and add jobs, generate revenue and build into great companies here.”
The Rise of the Rest fund’s backers include Clearwater native and Spanx founder Sara Blakely and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, plus a Who’s Who of entrepreneurship royalty, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, former eBay and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
The tour’s first stop Wednesday morning was The Penny Hoarder, the fast-growing personal finance website that provides news-you-can-use content on debt, credit, home-buying, careers and jobs on the side to 12 million or more online readers a month.
Started as an anonymous blog by Kyle Taylor, he once was so ashamed of his $50,000 in student and credit card debt that he hid his phone so that friends wouldn’t see calls from debt collectors, it has grown into a company with 60 employees and, as of 2017, $35 million in revenue.
“It’s a great example of what we’re trying to spotlight with Rise of the Rest,” Case said. “It shows you that a great entrepreneur with the great idea really can, more and more, build it anywhere.”
From there, the tour visited the InsideOut sales innovation lab, AbleNook, an Ybor City company that builds easy-to-ship, easy-to-assemble small dwellings that can be used in disaster relief, U.S. Special Operations Command’s SOFWERX incubator in Ybor City and Vinik’s Embarc Collective innovation hub near Amalie Arena.
Tonight, Case and Vinik are scheduled to judge a pitch competition in which eight local companies will compete for a $100,000 prize:
COI Energy Services, which connects utilities and businesses to drive energy efficiency in buildings and optimize the electric grid.
GuestBox, which creates curated boxes of high-end and eco-conscious items for the hospitality industry.
Immertec, which has a platform for real-time 3D and virtual reality training so that, for example, surgeons can learn and practice new procedures remotely.
Pocket Network, a platform that makes it easy for software developers to access any blockchain.
Presence, which makes student engagement and learning software aimed at helping universities improve graduation rates, student success and workforce readiness.
RankMiner, a patented platform that analyzes voices to discern a speaker’s intent and predict what that speaker is likely to do.
The Natural Nipple, which is designed to provide seamless, stress-free breast- and bottle-feeding via a bottle that mimics a real mom’s shape, feel and flow.
WorldWatch Plus, which aggregates and indexes information that governments, nonprofit organizations and media companies generate about companies and people, then delivers that information to clients.