AOL founder Steve Case said Thursday he'd heard "the buzz" about Chattanooga, including stories of EPB's ultra-fast internet and the city's Innovation District that's drawing talent and capital.
"This city has a glorious history," Case said at the Chattanooga Choo Choo during his "Rise of the Rest" tour stop. "I'm told there were 50 trains a day here. A hundred years ago, that was the hot technology. That shut down. Technology changed. The question is: What's the next revolution?"
Case and his associates spent all day in the Scenic City, talking with entrepreneurs, sharing with officials his vision of the startup ecosystem and learning about what's happening in Chattanooga.
Rise of the Rest
The effort aims to make it easier for startups to launch businesses in places such as Chattanooga and not just locations such as in Silicon Valley or the East Coast. According to AOL founder Steve Case:
› 75 percent of venture capital last year went to three states
› 50 percent of venture capital went to California
› 90 percent of venture capital last year went to men
› 1 percent of venture capital went to blacks
The city was one of five stops in his latest seed fund tour, in which his group heard pitches from eight Chattanooga startups for money.
FreightWaves, which uses data and technology to de-risk the freight market for businesses and is headed by Craig Fuller, won $100,000 in new investment.
While Chattanooga is the smallest of the cities Case is visiting this week — Dallas, Memphis, Birmingham and Louisville are the others — size doesn't necessarily matter, he said.
"We've done bigger and smaller," Case said, noting Rise of the Rest will have been in 37 cities by week's end.
Also, while Chattanooga doesn't have a major research university like most other cities his group has toured, the key is attracting talent to help energize a city's startup culture, he said.
"There's already signs it's happening here," Case said, who mentioned the momentum and collaboration around Chattanooga's business startup efforts. "It's great to see people here who do believe."
Case said that while Chattanooga has made a lot of progress, he noted that it's still early.
"It's a little like the first inning," he said. "There's still a lot of work to do. You've got to double down and put more points on the board."
J.D. Vance, managing partner of Case's Revolution investment fund, said building startups in Chattanooga helps a lot of people, including young people in the inner city and in rural areas.
"If we build the startup community, it will have positive effects not just for entrepreneurs and investors, but for all the kids who look to the future," he said. "We're trying to build a broader-based prosperity."
Ken McElrath, founder and chief executive of the Chattanooga technology company Skuid, said he knew people were behind him when he started the business.
"The coolest thing about launching a business in Chattanooga is that I knew there was already an ecosystem," he said, adding his company now employs about 180 people.
Ted Alling, who with Barry Large and Allan Davis are partners in the Chattanooga-based venture incubator Lamp Post Group, said they're passionate about what's happening in the city, noting they've put $36 million back into the community.
They've supported more than two dozen startups, he said, and he sees Chattanooga continuing to grow startups in the logistics sector.
One of the first stops on the tour was to the INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center on the North Shore. Several businesses within the center run by the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce were set up and ready to show their products to Case and Vance.
"I just hope to show them how I'm changing the world," said Felicia Jackson, CEO of CPR Wrap, which was one of the eight business pitching the Rise of the Rest group.
Jackson created the CPR wrap after a scare with her 2-year-old son, who began choking one day. Jackson, who worked in the medical field and is CPR trained, said she even panicked with her training, so she thought creating an easy-to-use wrap would help other people who might find themselves in the same position.
"There's more out there than just Silicon Valley," she said. "I think my voice is loud, but I can't really get to the people that need to be reached until they come here."
Vance and Case also visited Branch Technology in the INCubator, which specializes in large-scale, 3-D printing and was founded by architect R. Platt Boyd IV.
"I was not quite ready for the scale and sophistication of this operation," Vance said about Branch.
Chamber CEO Christy Gillenwater said the city hopes to leverage the Rise of the Rest tour visit.
"It's an exciting opportunity to showcase multiple entrepreneurs and its collaborative efforts," she said.
Contact staff writer Allison Shirk at firstname.lastname@example.org, @Allison_Shirk or 423-757-6651.
Contact staff writer Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.
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