Billionaire businessman Steve Case, who has been touring the country to promote – and invest in – up-and-coming business markets, is bringing his “Rise of the Rest” bus tour to Buffalo.
His Sept. 30 visit will give Buffalo companies the chance to compete for $100,000 in startup funds, but in a telephone interview on Monday, Case said that’s just one reason for his trip.
“Our goal is to go there to Buffalo to try to get a better understanding of it and then be a megaphone to tell the city’s story,” said Case, the co-founder of America Online and now the chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm.
“We want to shine a spotlight on these communities so that they will get more investor attention,” he said.
Case will visit Buffalo as part of his fourth “Rise of the Rest” tour, which will bring him to 10 northeastern cities. Case is set to announce details of the tour Tuesday at a White House “Demo Day” aimed at promoting entrepreneurship.
“I’m honored to attend the first White House Demo Day in the nation’s history, and I’m pleased to announce the expansion of our Rise of the Rest initiative to level the playing field for entrepreneurs everywhere,” Case said. “I look forward to visiting Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Manchester (N.H.) and Portland (Maine) this fall as our bus travels through the Northeast to visit some of America’s most iconic cities.”
Including Buffalo on that list was an easy decision, Case said.
“Basically we thought Buffalo was a city that’s showing strong momentum, and we want to go and learn what’s happening there,” he said.
Case said he wants to learn more about 43North, the local business incubator, as well as the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the Buffalo Billion initiative, the state’s investment in the city’s renaissance. The $100,000 available in Buffalo in a “pitch competition” will be part of $1 million in additional startup funds that will be available to 10 northeastern cities.
Local businesses will be able to enter bids for the funds starting Tuesday; more information is available at riseoftherest.com.
Entrants in the competition will be narrowed down to eight or nine finalists that will take part in the pitch competition in front of Case and other judges on Sept. 30, with the winner to be announced that day.
Case’s Rise of the Rest effort has already invested $1.5 million in startup businesses in cities such as Detroit, Pittsburgh and New Orleans.
And while $100,000 might not sound like a lot of seed money for any one business, what Case sees and learns in Buffalo might end up prompting a much bigger investment.
For example, after visiting Detroit, Case’s company ended up investing more than $30 million in Shinola, a Detroit-based manufacturer of watches, leather goods and bicycles.
Along with the pitch competition, Case’s visit will include meetings with local business people and public officials. In addition, he will host a happy hour to celebrate the visit.
People who are involved in Buffalo’s startup economy couldn’t be happier to hear that Case has decided to bring his road show to Buffalo.
“We’re really excited,” said Peter V. Burakowski, director of marketing at 43North. “It’s a real honor for Buffalo to be part of the tour. Steve Case is someone who has run businesses worldwide who has a wealth of experience. He can teach us a lot.”
Local officials didn’t have to work to hard, though, to convince Case to come.
“We were just on their radar screen because of all the positive news in general about our community,” said Jenna Kavanaugh, director of marketing and communications for Buffalo Niagara Enterprise, who serves on a committee that’s helping organize Case’s visit.
Meanwhile, local attorney David Colligan, who chairs the board of Launch New York – which aids entrepreneurs in 27 upstate counties – termed Case’s visit “fantastic news.”
“This will highlight the fact that we’ve gone from an entrepreneurial ecosystem on life support to one that has a tremendous amount of support and services for startups,” Colligan said.