AOL co-founder’s tour highlights Phoenix entrepreneurial community

PHOENIX – When venture capitalists think about technology, they often focus most of their attention on three states: California, New York and Massachusetts.

In 2015, 75 percent of venture capital went to these three states, according to a city of Phoenix news release.

To help spread that wealth, tech mogul and co-founder of AOL Steve Case and his venture capital firm Revolution launched a national tour that highlights other budding capitals of entrepreneurship. They pulled into Phoenix on Friday during the fifth and final stop of their latest Rise of the Rest tour.

Organizers designed the tour to put the spotlight on emerging startup communities in the Southwest. It brings together local startups, investors and government officials to foster entrepreneurship in communities that would not usually receive attention from large investment groups.

The tour bus made stops at Phoenix area businesses, which included Local Motors, a 3-D printing car manufacturer, and WebPT, a cloud-based medical record storage platform.

“Having Steve Case here, a visionary, showing and shedding light on locations that you wouldn’t necessarily identify with high-tech, high-innovation is exciting and it’s been great,” said Jean Paul Capin Gally, the chief financial officer of Local Motors.

Steve Case (right) and Local Motors CEO John B. Rogers Jr. discuss the Phoenix company's production methods. (Photo by Gavin Maxwell/Cronkite News)

Steve Case (right) and Local Motors CEO John B. Rogers Jr. discuss the Phoenix company’s production methods. (Photo by Gavin Maxwell/Cronkite News)

Community leaders such as Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Arizona State University President Michael Crow also joined in some of the day’s events to discuss the growth of the Phoenix area as a hub of innovation.

“There’s a lot more companies. We see a lot more talent appearing around software, coding and other high-tech industries. Phoenix has gone through a transformation since the recession, especially as markets like Silicon Valley have become too crowded,” Gally said.

Rise of the Rest closed out the day with a pitch competition to provide a business with a $100,000 investment.

The tour selected eight finalists to pitch their startups to Case and his panel of judges – television show “Shark Tank” style – at The Duce in downtown Phoenix. The businesses came from fields that included medical technology, education software and amatuer basketball leauges.

The judges said the competition was tough, but they named NeoLight, a startup that has designed an affordable piece of medical equipment to combat jaundice in newborns, the winner.

Hundreds of residents showed up at The Duce to show their support for the entrepreneurs.

Case said the tour’s goal is “to be a catalyst to get more money flowing to more people in more places.”

This is the fifth Rise of the Rest bus tour, making Phoenix the 25th city Case has visited. One team member said Phoenix had more nominees for the startup pitch competition than any other city so far.

“This tour, we decided to come to the Southwest, and you can’t come to the Southwest and not come to Phoenix,” Case said. “The community here really rallied to get our attention and seems to be rallying (around) entrepreneurs to support them.” he said.