AOL Founder Wants to Give $100k to a Philly Entrepreneur

Steve Case is hunting for the next great innovation.

Steve Case talking to a group of entrepreneurs in Detroit during a previous Rise of the Rest tour. (Photo courtesy of Revolution.)

Steve Case talking to a group of entrepreneurs in Detroit during a previous Rise of the Rest tour. (Photo courtesy of Revolution.)

Steve Case may be best known as the founder of AOL, but these days, the billionaire is one of the foremost investors in startup companies outside Silicon Valley. On Tuesday morning, Case announced that he’s coming to Philadelphia in September to hold a pitch and demo contest with a $100,000 grand prize. (Apply here.)

It’s part of his Rise of the Rest tour, a road trip where Case and his investor friends will visit 10 cities and give away at least $1 million.

“Last year, 75 percent of all venture capital funding went to three states – California, New York and Massachusetts,” said Case. “The other 47 states were fighting over the last 25 percent. That will change over next decade.”

The Philly pitch contest will feature eight or nine presenters vying for the $100,000 prize, but Case said “the goal is to get them all funded” — meaning investors will not be shy offering cash to runners up. It’ll be held Sept. 29.

Case said he’s particularly excited to learn more about Philadelphia’s startup scene, and hopes to help shine a light on it for a national audience.

“Cities like Philadelphia will rise. They have a stronger startup ecosystem than most people perceive,” said Case. “Most people around the country don’t know what’s happening in Philadelphia, so we hope to attract more national media attention and investor attention.”

When asked how Philly can differentiate itself from the rest, Case said that it needs to figure out its “core competencies.”

“Pittsburgh is focused on robotics. Nashville is working on health technology. New Orleans is focused on education tech because it has so many Teach for America people there,” he said. “Each city is different.”

This will be the fourth Rise of the Rest tour, and its first visit to Philly. Other cities on the latest leg of the tour include Baltimore, Buffalo, Manchester, and Portland. Case will be joined by investors from Google for EntrepreneursSalesforce for Startups, beEngine, Seed Here Studio, Tech Cocktail, Startup Grind, and Village Capital.

“There is momentum building around Philadelphia and it will rise in next decade,” said Case. “I’m hoping our visit creates a little more momentum and helps us tell the story of Philadelphia to people who aren’t living there.”  

Archna Sahay,‎ manager of entrepreneurial investment at City of Philadelphia, said she’s excited to see startups with the opportunity for national exposure.

“I’m glad we can capitalize on this,” she said, “and help the ecosystem thrive and grow and get more national attention and money on our startups.”

The project is sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Benjamin’s Desk, Philly Startup Leaders, Mentortech, Skai Blue Media and Startup PHL.

Entrepreneurs can apply for the contest here.

Follow @JaredShelly and @BizPhilly on Twitter.