From the mind-set of a venture capitalist – and cofounder of AOL – it was by no means a no-brainer to stop in Charleston as part of a bus tour devoted to highlighting and investing in startups.
Even so, Steve Case included Charleston on Wednesday as part of his “Rise of the Rest” roadshow, which includes visits to five Southeast cities and $100,000 to a promising young business in each of them.
Charleston just made the cut. It was a “borderline” pick, Case said.
He cited Raleigh, where the financing and merger-and-acquisition scene is much more vibrant.
“There was real ... momentum,” he said. “Here there has been ... not the same level of momentum.”
Even so, he said Charleston “is obviously well-positioned” to grow its technology and entrepreneurial base.
“People who live here want to live here,” Case said. “And as you know there are a lot of other people who want to live here but haven’t quite been able to rationalize” such a move, at least not yet.
“That can change,” Case said.
Case cofounded AOL as America Online in Tysons Corner, Va., in the mid-1980s, when just 3 percent of the population had Internet service. He now heads up Revolution, a venture capital firm based in Washington, D.C.
“We are trying to do our part to get people to pay attention ... to the Charleston entrepreneurial story,” Case said.
A business pitch contest featuring eight local startup companies was one of the highlights of his daylong visit.
The winner of the $100,000 prize was Bidr. Launched in June by Sam Staley, the Mount Pleasant-based company’s technology allows users to bid on silent auction items and get updates on their smartphones. Bidr is fresh off a win at another startup funding competition last week, when it took home $7,500 from the Dig South event.
The other firms that were gunning for Case’s money were: OpenAngler, Echovate, Dynepic, Good Done Great, Bublish, Eatabit and Charleston Gourmet Burger.
Case began the day with a breakfast meeting with Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and a roomful of local technology investors and entrepreneurs at Halls Chophouse. He urged them to support promising young businesses, whether with ideas or money.
Case also toured three local businesses: PeopleMatter, Rewind Candles and Levelwing,
Before the pitch competition on the Yorktown at Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant, Case ate a seafood lunch on paper plates and bowls at The Wreck restaurant on Shem Creek. His fellow diners included Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page and U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.
A “fireside chat” with Gov. Nikki Haley followed on the Yorktown.
“The glass is half-full, not half-empty,” Case said of Charleston.
Case already had been to Raleigh and Richmond to kick off his 2015 Rise of the Rest tour. After Charleston, his last two stops are Atlanta and New Orleans.