Futurecast Featuring Steve Case: Innovation, Revolution, and the Future of American Innovation
Update July 20,2015: Watch the Futurecast video at the end of this post.
The AT&T Foundry innovation centers are fast-paced and collaborative environments. AT&T and technology providers work in the AT&T Foundry to deliver applications and services to customers more quickly than ever before. The AT&T Foundry – along with AT&T Foundry sponsor Ericsson and Andrew Keen, author of Cult of the Amateur and Digital Vertigo – host a series of salon-style discussions called Futurecasts. These discussions bring the brightest minds together to tackle the future of a wide array of technologies.
About this Futurecast: San Francisco, New York, and Austin have long been considered the “hubs” of the U.S. tech sector, but they don¹t have a monopoly on entrepreneurship and innovation. In fact, entrepreneurs are increasingly choosing to start their businesses in other, smaller cities across the country.
Steve Case, venture capitalist and co-founder of AOL, has made it his mission to highlight the efforts and successes of these startup hubs during his “Rise of the Rest” bus tours through competitions in numerous U.S. cities – with winners receiving a $100,000 investment. What factors contribute to a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem? What can local governments do to foster new hubs of innovation? Is a more equitable nationwide distribution of talent, capital, and innovation good or bad for Silicon Valley?
Recently, I was invited to attend the AT&T Foundry’s Futurecast event in Washington DC. Featuring special guest Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, the evening provided an engaging discussion around the past, present, and future of innovation in America. Led by the always insightful Andrew Keen, the conversation whirled through National history, the cyclic nature of innovation, politics, policy, the rise and decline of empires, and the American Dream. What better place to host such an event than in Washington, DC at an incubator named ‘1776’?
Mr. Case reminded us that startups are nothing new in the United States – America itself being a bold, disruptive startup in 1776. He reminded us that the Silicon Valley phenomenon is not unique in our history. The U.S. has seen a recurring pattern of innovation and localized economic dominance across multiple industries: Pittsburgh in the great steel era, Detroit in the heyday of cars, New York in the financial and publishing worlds, etc. These places have all been “Silicon Valleys” in their own right at different times in our past.
Andrew asked “Is Silicon Valley arrogant?” to which Steve replied “Yes,” without blinking an eye. As the center of gravity in the modern Internet era, it has reason to be. But knowing that the pendulum of fame and fortune is always in motion, where will the next Silicon Valley be and who will be its masters? This was a key theme of the evening, and is one of the pressing questions of our time.
The 3 Phases of Internet Growth
Steve walked us through what he considers the three major phases of Internet growth:
- Building awareness: 1985 – 2000
- Building it up and using it: 2000 – now
- Integrating into every part of our lives: Now and beyond
I recall the first phase fondly… 300 baud modems, bulletin-board systems, The Well, CompuServe, ADSL Gopher, and of course America Online. Early settlers in this era poured the foundation and laid the tracks like railroad pioneers for future innovators to follow. The epicenter of this era was arguably in the DC/Virginia area – at one point, over half of Internet traffic flowed through servers here, according to Steve.
The second era is the one most of us know and love… high-speed connectivity, software as a service, millions of apps supporting every conceivable business and consumer need. It’s the era of Apple’s rebirth, Google’s dominance, and computers in our pockets. No more need be said.
But what is this third era? Now that computing and connectivity are pervasive, they will inevitably permeate and alter all aspects of our lives. Agriculture, money, education, transportation, and more are ripe for transformation. We already see signs of change, but the revolution is only getting started.
If this represents a new era, it has the potential to be as disruptive to the U.S. and the world as other upheavals in our past. What will this new era look like? Will the current gods continue to control Olympus, or will new titans come to rule?
Rise of the Rest: Seeding Startups Across the Country
Segue to Steve Case’s “Rise of the Rest.” A rolling bus tour of innovation and entrepreneurial evangelism across the country. If this new Internet era will contribute to every part of our nation, then every part of our nation has something to contribute back. Every community brings unique perspectives and skills to the table. Now is the time to benefit from the history of Charleston, the spirit of New Orleans, the determination of Detroit, and all the people and personalities of our varied communities.
There’s little doubt that Silicon Valley will remain an important hub of innovation, but this new era opens opportunities for unexpected new leaders from unexpected places. “Rise of the Rest” is helping to plant startup seeds around the country, any of which could rise to meet the demands of new and wonderful industries. “Rise of the Rest” demonstrates not only Mr. Case’s wisdom as an entrepreneur, but also his shrewdness as an investor.
Of course, Steve Case’s Revolution is not the only organization nurturing new growth in America. At the Futurecast I was inspired by a bevy of businesses funded by the AT&T Aspire Accelerator, all focusing on education. Thanks to AT&T and good old fashioned entrepreneurial grit, community college students can stay informed and motivated, educators can share information on teaching tools, kids and adults can play educational games, and all of us can brush up on our grammar.
Silicon Valley Isn’t the Only Destination for Internet Innovation
I had the opportunity to co-found OpenPath Products at the start of this second Internet era. Google was just a search engine, Apple was crawling out of hard times, and Nokia was starting to make the first smartphones. We started the company with the crazy notion that people would one day want to run apps on their cell phones. I think we were on to something. Granted, OpenPath might not be the first name most people think of in the Internet era, but we have created many jobs over 15 years, paid a lot of taxes, and contributed to both our local community and the industry we serve.
Annapolis may not be Silicon Valley, but it is a beautiful place with a rich history and a vibrant community. The terroir of our location has contributed to the unique character of our company. There are many communities like ours across the country. These communities and the companies they foster all contribute to America’s greatness in their own unique ways. As entrepreneurs, technologists, and students of history, we thoroughly enjoyed the Futurecast evening and applaud Mr. Case’s efforts.
Watch the Futurecast
Hear directly from Steve Case in video clips from Futurecast, including the one below on the rise of innovation hubs, found on the event page of the Futurecast portal.
Steve Case is one of America’s best known and most accomplished entrepreneurs, and a pioneer in making the Internet part of everyday life.
Under his leadership, AOL became the world’s largest and most valuable Internet company, driving the worldwide adoption of a medium that has transformed business and society. Today, Case is Chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC, a Washington D.C. based investment firm he co-founded in 2005.
Richard Smith is the CTO and co-founder of OpenPath Products, a mobile technology consulting firm based in Annapolis, Maryland. His favorite part of the job is helping companies to connect people and technologies in unexpected ways.