In recent years, entrepreneurship has expanded beyond areas like the Bay Area, with vibrant startups popping up in unlikely cities like St. Louis, Atlanta, and Chattanooga.
Still, former AOL CEO Steve Case insists Silicon Valley remains the most powerful player in the startup world.
“It’s the leader of the pack and will continue to be the leader of the pack, the most vibrant startup ecosystem really in the world going forward,” Case recently told Yahoo Finance. We’re not talking about the fall of Silicon Valley, we’re talking about the rise of dozens of other cities to create this more dispersed innovation economy.
The startup scene in Silicon Valley dates back to the 1940s, when Frederick Terman, dean of Stanford University’s engineering school, began encouraging faculty and alumni to start companies. In 1951, he created the Stanford Industrial Park, which served as the headquarters for companies such as Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Varian Associates.
The late 50s saw more innovation when eight of Nobel laureate William Shockley’s top researchers quit his lab and founded Fairchild Semiconductor. The company went on to build the first integrated circuit, a key component of modern electronic devices that helped establish the Bay Area as a center of technological innovation.
In the early 1970s, large amounts of venture capital money poured into Silicon Valley with the founding of venture capital firms such as Kleiner-Perkins and Sequoia Capital.
As a result, venture capital money poured into Silicon Valley with the founding of some of the world’s largest venture capital firms such as Kleiner-Perkins and Sequoia Capital in the early 1970s.
“Silicon Valley came up, a number of things kind of came together. Certainly, big universities like Stanford have a sense of possibility. A lot of people moved to California because it was a pioneer spirit, even the gold rush and that, that mentality to help inspire people, you know, Case said. “But also, that’s where venture capital was really based. It started a little in New York, but the center of gravity was really in San Francisco. And then you created this dynamic of increasing returns where there was more money.
Despite Silicon Valley’s rich history of business innovation, 2021 has seen a surge in investment outside the Bay Area. According to a report by Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and PitchBook, for the first time in a decade, less than 30 percent of all US venture capital is allocated to Silicon Valley.
For the past decade, Case, who co-founded AOL in 1985, has been bussing around the United States in search of promising entrepreneurs and startups outside the Valley. His Washington, DC-based company, Revolution LLC, has invested in nearly 200 companies in more than 100 cities. He argues that companies outside of traditional startup hubs should get more attention from investors.
“I think it’s gone from what people thought was a little bit on the fringes to recognizing some really important companies that are being built in different parts of the country,” Case said. And it makes sense to expand your horizons beyond where you are, whether it’s San Francisco, New York or Boston, and look for opportunities elsewhere.
In his book, The Rise of the Rest: How Entrepreneurs in Surprising Places Are Building the New American Dream, published in September, Case profiles 30 new innovative companies from unexpected places. For example, he writes about Catalyte, a Baltimore-based software company that uses artificial intelligence to find and train software engineers. He also points to Appharvest, a Kentucky-based sustainable food company that offers a more efficient alternative to traditional agribusinesses.
“It’s really remarkable what’s brewing there. And I really believe that it’s going to accelerate over the next decade.” Case said. And 10 years from now, we’ll find that Silicon Valley is still the leader, but with much more diverse innovation. “The economy, a much more inclusive innovation economy, which I think will be good for those communities and, frankly, for the country.”
Case oversaw the merger of AOL and Time Warner in 2001 and became chairman of the board. He resigned from his position in 2003. Both Yahoo and AOL are owned by private equity firm Apollo Global Management.
Dylan Kroll is a reporter and researcher at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @CrollonPatrol.
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