Starting April 20, the tour will stop in Wichita, Kan., Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Bentonville before heading to St. Louis for the final day. In each city, the Revolution team, including chairman and CEO Steve Case, will meet with entrepreneurs, local business and government leaders and startup ecosystem builders. The goal is to highlight emerging startup ecosystems and place investment dollars in overlooked areas outside the major hubs of Silicon Valley, New York and Boston — i.e. the “rest” of the country.
As part of the stop in Bentonville on April 23, the tour will partner with the Heartland Summit, a two-day event hosted by Bentonville think-and-do tank Heartland Forward.
Case, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur who co-founded internet provider America Online Inc. (AOL) in the 1980s, launched Revolution in 2005, with the philosophy that great companies can start and scale anywhere.
The money to back that fund has come in the form of a growth stage fund, a ventures fund and two $150 million Rise of the Rest seed funds.
The first Rise of the Rest fund launched in 2017. The second launched this past October. They each have some impressive backers including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Silicon Valley executive Meg Whitman, Spanx founder Sara Blakely and billionaire investor Ray Dalio.
“They really believe that some of the next great companies of the future will come not from Silicon Valley or New York City, which is where a lot of venture capital goes today, but also from areas like Northwest Arkansas,” Case said. “That’s why we are delighted to be there.”
Members of the Walton family are investors in the first Rise of the Rest fund. Case said he has visited Bentonville a handful of times and he is somewhat familiar with Northwest Arkansas and its growing reputation as a successful region to nurture entrepreneurial ventures.
“It’s amazing to see what has happened [in Northwest Arkansas], particularly in Bentonville with the arts and culture,” Case said. “There’s been a lot of work done the past five years on what some call ‘placemaking.’ I think the focus the next five years will be on backing the startups that can really create jobs and create momentum.
“That’s really where our focus has been. The work of the Walton family and others has been quite impressive. It’s helped create more visibility, more momentum, more of a sense of excitement and possibility there [in Northwest Arkansas]. But the next step is to drive the creation of more companies there. Hopefully, the next Walmart, the next Tyson Foods or J.B. Hunt will be [located] there as opposed to the coasts, which has been more common for startups the past 20 years.”
Rise of the Rest officially started as a bus tour in 2014 and was profiled last year on the CBS news magazine “60 Minutes.” The platform is a nationwide effort to invest in and work closely with entrepreneurs in emerging startup ecosystems between America’s coasts.
Since the road trips began, Case and his team of investors have traveled over 11,000 miles to 43 cities on the Rise of the Rest bus to visit entrepreneurial ecosystems and highlight companies and entrepreneurs. The April tour through the Heartland will be the ninth tour. On each one, the Rise of the Rest bus hits five cities in five days and in each city meets with elected officials, ecosystem builders and founders.
At the end of the day in each city, a pitch competition hosted by Case is held and the winner earns an investment of $100,000. For more information on applying to pitch and attending tour events, click here.
“These regions have deep legacies of storied entrepreneurial successes,” Case said. “Through the tour, we want to help catalyze additional momentum to help the next generation of entrepreneurs in places like Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri, and with our recently announced second seed fund, invest in their future progress.”
Anna Mason is a partner on the Rise of the Rest seed funds who also leads the bus tour. She said the road trips have proved to be a good gauge of a city’s trajectory and its business community.
“We view the trip as an opportunity to learn what is helping and hindering founders in cities between the coasts and help shine a brighter spotlight on how each city is helping to make their community a true home for startups,” she said.