Column featured in Lancaster Newspapers.
In late June, Central Pennsylvania was announced as an October stop on the Rise of the Rest tour.
This tour, led by AOL co-founder Steve Case and his teammate, J.D. Vance, elevates the importance of communities like Lancaster, York and Harrisburg to advance disruptive innovation and technology.
Young companies that could change a community, an industry or have a global impact exist throughout the United States. Unfortunately, as Case repeatedly points out, almost 80 percent of venture capital investments — a key vehicle of funding and credibility for early stage companies — lands in California, New York and Boston.
That leaves the rest of the country, including Central Pennsylvania, with a gap and a notable hurdle to overcome.
Case, through his national spotlight and, as importantly, through his own considerable investments— including $100,000 to a company in Central Pennsylvania as well as in each of the other stops on his tour — is passionately trying to shift that balance.
His team also recognizes that places where venture capital flows more freely also have solid community systems that support innovators and founders to take a disruptive concept through the product development and implementation phases.
With this in mind, the team facilitates conversations and encourages connections during the Rise of the Rest tour that reverberate and continue on through the innovation ecosystem long after the bus leaves.
Central Pennsylvania has an extraordinary opportunity to leverage this national spotlight.
The base hypothesis of Rise of the Rest holds true for our region: Central Pennsylvania has many innovative entrepreneurs, particularly in such key clusters as agriculture, manufacturing and health care.
That’s not surprising, as we also have major business interests in these sectors, many of which are doing their own research and development and/or could be adopters of new technologies.
And, we have some key elements of the “innovation ecosystem” in place, including resources such as SCORE, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, and Assets. There is also a growing number of coworking and accelerator spaces in addition to an organic undercurrent of founders and entrepreneurs.
Central Pennsylvania also brings a history of innovation, strong proximity to marketplaces, a high quality of life and local wealth that is sometimes deployed in the form of “friends and family” money to seed capital.
However, Central Pennsylvania has several key weak areas that have kept the startup environment from fully flourishing.
While we have several business development and startup resources working to be better coordinated, they are not yet fully synchronized.
And, many entrepreneurs highlight our current obstacles as gaps in capital, including venture capital and angel funding, an overall riskaverse culture that acknowledges but doesn’t embrace entrepreneurs, and a lack of significant corporate engagement in the startup community.
These weak spots are not unusual. In fact, Rise of the Rest has consistently encountered similar challenges in many of the communities it has visited in its past tours.
Case’s Oct. 10 visit to Central Pennsylvania offers a compelling opportunity for us to showcase the often-hidden, yet amazing entrepreneurs we have, while at the same time bringing urgency to advance solutions to these community weaknesses.