Carrie Rengers

Want entrepreneur Steve Case to invest $100,000 or more in your start-up? Here’s how

Wichita bills itself as an entrepreneurial town, but former America Online chairman and CEO — and one-time Wichitan — Steve Case has some sobering statistics about how many venture capital dollars are invested here.

In 2019, he says, 75% of those dollars went to three states — California, New York and Massachusetts, with California alone getting 50%.

All of Kansas got less than 1%, Case says.

“That’s what we’re trying to reverse.”

Case is going to try to help with the Rise of the Rest Road Trip in April, when he’ll visit Wichita and make four other Midwestern stops — in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, St. Louis and northwest Arkansas.

The Rise of the Rest Seed Fund started at Revolution, the Washington, D.C.-based investment firm where Case is the chairman and CEO.

“Our basic focus is backing the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Case says.

In 2014, Revolution started the fund, which today has $150 million, to help support start-ups in places that don’t typically see much venture capital investment.

“Iconic entrepreneurs,” as Case calls them, such as Jeff Bezos along with some well-known entrepreneurial families such as the Kochs in Kansas and the Waltons in Arkansas, back Rise of the Rest.

“The overall goal is to level the playing field so everybody everywhere really feels like they have a shot at the American dream,” Case says.

This is the second Rise of the Rest Road Trip.

“Wichita has been on our radar for a while,” Case says.

He said he was in Wichita last year to visit with father-and-son Charles and Chase Koch in part about Rise of the Rest.

Case says he also visited Wichita State University and its Experiential Engineering Building.

He says he got a sense that some things were starting to happen here.

“It just struck us as the perfect kind of city to visit.”

Case will visit Wichita on April 20 and has a full day planned of community meetings and a pitch competition in which area entrepreneurs can share their start-up ideas and make pitches for why investors should support them. Those interested can find out more at www.events.revolution.com.

Case says there are sometimes as many as 100 applicants, and the top eight are selected to make pitches in person.

At least one — though it could be more — is chosen for a minimum of a $100,000 investment.

“We want venture capital-like returns,” Case says.

For anyone doing a start-up, Case says people should think of problems to solve or opportunities to seize.

“Something you believe you have a particular insight into and passion about.”

Also, he says, anyone doing a start-up should build a team.

“Entrepreneurship is a team sport.”

Case’s own entrepreneurial roots trace back to Wichita in the early 1980s when he was director of new pizza development for Pizza Hut.

“Actually, the first time I ever got online was when I was in Wichita.”

So he’s in a unique position to judge whether Wichita is more of an entrepreneurial town than most, as Wichitans tend to boast. Case is careful about that, though.

“It’s a little bit like asking a parent which child they prefer.”

During his brief trip to Wichita last year, Case says he noticed that “it was a lot different than when I’d been there previously,” particularly downtown.

He visited the Pizza Hut Museum at WSU, but Case says he didn’t have much time to tour the city.

“So I’m looking forward to returning.”

Carrie Rengers has been a reporter for almost three decades, including 16 years at The Wichita Eagle. Her Have You Heard? column of business scoops runs five days a week in The Eagle. If you have a tip, please e-mail or tweet her or call 316-268-6340.
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