Steve Case' team meets with Biomeme founders at their Old City office.

Philadelphia has long fought the notion that it can’t be a hub for tech and innovation, especially in the last decade as more small startups and inventive companies have moved into this city and made it their own.

But — surprise! — Philly isn’t the only major city pushing against the idea that Silicon Valley and New York are the only places you can find major innovation happening. And AOL-founder-turned-venture-capitalist Steve Case is traveling the country trying to capitalize on that.

In its second year, Case’s Rise of the Rest bus trip is coming to Philly in September as part of its northeast tour of five cities that are up-and-coming hubs for tech and startups. Case and his team will spend a day in each city, tour successful local startups and hold at least two public events — one of those is a pitch competition that will result in a $100,000 investment in a local company.

Members of Case’s team scouted out Philadelphia pockets on Tuesday from Old City to the Navy Yard to look at locations that their boss may visit when he makes the real day-trip on Sept. 29. For now, they’re working to finalize the day’s schedule while they field applications from Philly company leaders who want to make their pitches to Case, his team and other judges who are yet to be determined.

Billy Penn tagged along with the team on Tuesday as they traveled around the city to see what Philly has to offer. Which, as the city’s Manager of Entrepreneurial Investment Archna Sahay told them, happens to be more than a good cheesesteak.

What ‘Rise of the Rest’ is

Steve Case speaks at a Rise of the Rest event in Nashville in June 2014.
Steve Case speaks at a Rise of the Rest event in Nashville in June 2014. Credit:

Washington D.C.-based venture capitalist Steve Case and his team at Revolution LLC started Rise of the Rest last year as a way to invest in tech and highlight companies in what they deem “emerging” startup ecosystems. The team, which travels around via a branded bus, has so far visited some 14 cities on three separate tours, and Philadelphia will be the second stop on the Fall 2015 tour, which also includes:

  • Baltimore, Md.
  • Buffalo, N.Y.
  • Manchester, N.H.
  • Portland, Maine

Case’ grassroots effort to highlight startup communities in cities across America has left well over $1 million invested in companies in these pockets of the country that don’t always get attention from the big California VCs. So far, he’s invested in companies like Pittsburgh’s SolePower — a company that created insoles that harness energy from walking and turn it into a unique way to power your cell phone — and Nashville’s Artiphon, which synthesizes music with smartphones.

Herbie Ziskend, the leader of Case’s team that runs Rise of the Rest, said the $100,000 check to a company is an equity investment from Case personally and means he’ll be involved post-investment in development of the company. Ziskend said the money would likely be lumped in with another fundraising round, or could be a convertible note that would be applied to the next fundraising round.

In addition to investing in the individual companies, he said that the tour allows for Case and Revolution to form partnerships with leaders so that if additional opportunities pop up in the future, those city leaders can connect Case with appropriate companies and executives.

Case and his team have also gotten big boosts from sponsors like Google and Salesforce, and they’ll also likely seek local support that hasn’t yet been finalized. But what is set is what the trip will look like, because the format is generally the same in each city: Tour startups in the city, evaluate companies during a pitch competition, then hold a free, public happy hour.

Where the team stopped in Philly

Case’ team meets with leaders at the ExCITe Center in University City.
Case’ team meets with leaders at the ExCITe Center in University City.

Flanked by Sahay and top dogs at Philly Startup Leaders, Case’s four-person team checked out some 20 locations across the city on Tuesday to scout out what September might look like. The all-day tour coordinated by Sahay and the City started at La Colombe’s flagship coffee shop/ restaurant/ empire castle in Fishtown, snaked through Old City, Center City and University City and also made stops at the Navy Yard.

“We’re really excited about what we saw,” Ziskend said. “It was diverse, and the passionate local leaders have a great enthusiasm for Rise of the Rest. Philly is really emerging, and it is so exciting to see.”

Among the local startup leaders the team met with were Maximilian Maksutovic and Marc DeJohn, founders of Biomeme, an Old City-based startup that’s bringing basic DNA testing to smartphones. Not long after, they swung by RJ Metrics‘ Center City office where dozens of employees work with CEO Robert Moore on the company’s cloud-based business analytics platform. And after lunch they met with leaders in University City at Drexel’s ExCITe Center where they checked out the wearable technologies lab at 34th and Market streets.

Among the locations the team visited while scouting out Philly:

  • La Colombe, Fishtown
  • Biomeme, Old City
  • Dorado Systems, Old City
  • RJ Metrics, Center City
  • Drexel Baiada Institute, University City
  • ExCITe Center, University City
  • Quorum, University City
  • World Cafe Live, University City
  • Ampitheatre, Navy Yard
  • Urban Outfitters, Navy Yard
  • RevZilla, Navy Yard
  • NextFab, South Philly
  • Benjamin’s Desk, Center City
  • Pipeline, Center City

Nothing has been finalized yet in terms of where the team will make stops when Case is in town — it could be at these locations, or others. We’ll update this story when a formal schedule is announced.

How you can pitch Steve Case

Case and his team are looking for all types of startups, and while tech-heavy companies have succeeded in the past, Ziskend said investors are open to other companies (they once strongly considered a burger sauce company) with products they think have the ability to scale much larger and have plans to stay in the city they’re in. Said another way: They want diverse companies to apply to pitch.

Here’s what they’re really looking for, according to the Rise of the Rest site:

• A bold idea: Does the idea “swing for the fences” and have the potential to change the world – and, if successful, perhaps become a billion-dollar business?
• Jobs: Will the idea, if it scales, employ a large number of people?
• Team: Does the team have the skills and leadership to move forward on this idea?
• Execution: Is there strong customer growth or revenue?
• Business Model: Has a revenue model been defined and is it realistic and sustainable?
• Local: Is this idea building on the core strengths (and unique differentiators) of the region – and, if selected, will this startup potentially excite national investors and media to pay more attention to what’s happening in the region?

Want to make a quick $100K for your company and move to Silicon Valley? You need not apply. Don’t have any employees or a business plan? Sorry, better luck elsewhere. They’re also looking for Philly companies — not Jersey, not Delaware. Maybe the Philly suburbs in Pennsylvania, they say, but not farther than that.

Prior to the Sept. 29 visit, Case and his team will review online applications that are due by Sept. 13 — the process requires companies to outline everything from their product, to their team to their financing and how much money they’ve secured thus far. Rise of the Rest will pick eight teams to pitch to them during the pitch competition, which will allot four minutes for pitching and three minutes for questions and answers.

Find the application to pitch here, and information about RSVP’ing to attend the pitch competition or the after-party here.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.