For decades, the Silicon Valley has had a de-facto monopoly on technology innovation, causing a highly concentrated startup and investor community to spring up in the region to chase the dollars (real or imaginary) generated by that innovation. But over the past few years, there has been a growing sentiment across the rest of the United States that the Silicon Valley has gradually become an exclusive – yet unappealing – club that’s closed its doors to outsiders. And rather than trying to strongarm their way into this increasingly insular clique, regions across the country have decided that there’s no reason they can’t themselves become innovation hotbeds to rival Silicon Valley.
One of the individuals fueling this innovation movement outside of Silicon Valley knows the machinations of the valley as well as anyone: former co-founder of America Online (AOL) and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Steve Case. With his AOL days long behind him, Case has launched Revolution, an organization whose goal is to invest “in people and ideas that can change the world.” Dig a bit deeper into Revolution, though, and you’ll find that it’s placing an emphasis on investing in “off-the-beaten-path regions where the rest is rising.”
Case has taken this regional focus one step further by launching an ongoing tour called the Rise Of The Rest Road Trip, as well as a Rise Of The Rest Seed Fund. The goal of both is to find the most promising startups outside of Silicon Valley, as well as outside New York City and Boston (two other markets that have become quite saturated with startup activity). The Road Trip visits cities across the American heartland – including Louisville, Memphis, Indianapolis, Green Bay, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania – and our client, Aspire Ventures, served as the host of the tour’s Lancaster stop last year. And Case is putting his money where his mouth is by awarding $100K to the most promising startup in each region his tour visits.
Beyond Case’s efforts, all you need to do is run a quick Google search to find countless articles citing the appeal of Silicon Valley’s regional rivals:
Fortune recently detailed why the Rust Belt – a region spanning the Eastern and Midwestern U.S. – is building on its industrial manufacturing past to collaborate with local universities, government bodies and businesses to become a series of “brainbelt” innovation hubs.
Fortune is clearly all over this trend: last week it ran an article previewing topics to be discussed at its Brainstorm Reinvent conference this September, with one of those topics being which kinds of companies are best positioned to succeed in the heartland, and another being how non-Silicon Valley companies can compete with their Bay Area-based rivals.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce published a piece on why Durham, North Carolina – a city historically known for its tobacco and textiles output – is “in the midst of an entrepreneurial renaissance” that led to CNBC recently dubbing it the “Startup capital of the South”; notable Durham residents include IBM, Sony Ericsson and Cisco.
Head further west and you’ll find that Salt Lake City is staking its claim as a hotbed for STEM (Science, Technology, Education, Math) innovation and jobs – eclipsing metropolises like Chicago, New York City and San Jose.
Another dynamic at play here is the fact that today’s digital age has enabled companies to transcend physical borders to directly reach anyone, anywhere, at any time. Since anyone with an internet connection can now become their own publisher, a Minneapolis-based company, for example, no longer needs to rely on local Twin Cities publications to get its message to its audience. Following that same line of logic, a startup doesn’t need to be embedded in the Bay Area to reach those vital potential investors and customers. A de facto borderless society helps even the playing field.
Finally, with this even playing field, startups based in regions that aren’t Silicon Valley have a massive opportunity to tell a unique entrepreneurial and innovation story. Just as startups in the Rust Belt are re-positioning themselves as members of the “brainbelt” innovation hub, startups based outside of the Bay Area can draw on their region’s strengths and/or areas of focus to tell a new story. Aspire Ventures, for example, is at the nexus of healthcare technology innovation taking place in and between Pennsylvania’s biggest cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and this innovation is happening in Amish country in Lancaster – one of the unlikeliest places you could imagine for tech advancements.
As a tech PR agency always on the hunt for exciting companies upending the status quo, we couldn’t be more encouraged by the wave of innovation that’s sweeping these lesser-known regions of the country. And our client roster reflects this trend: PrecisionHawk in Raleigh, NC; OVH in Reston, VA; Aspire Ventures in Lancaster, PA; and iQor in St. Petersburg, FL, to name a few. So, while we’ll always love Silicon Valley for being the first bastion of tech innovation in the U.S. and a region that’s helped our company grow tremendously, we say bring on the competition from across every corner of America!
By Drew Smith