Venture capital firm Revolution—which was founded by AOL founder Steve Case—brought its Rise of the Rest tour to Chattanooga Thursday. Case spoke to a large group at Songbirds Guitar Museum Thursday morning. (Photo: Staff)

Venture capital firm Revolution—which AOL founder Steve Case started—is in Chattanooga Thursday, touring startups, meeting entrepreneurs and spreading a message of inclusion.

“Here’s why we are here,” Case said at a Thursday morning breakfast at Songbirds Guitar Museum. “We’re the most innovative, entrepreneurial nation in the world but that path to entrepreneurship is not available to everybody.”

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Seventy-five percent of venture capital went to three states last year, he said. California got 50 percent of it, Case said.

That leaves states like Tennessee cut out of opportunities, he said.

Moreover, 90 percent of venture capital goes to men. Women and minorities are often left out.

“That’s not right, but also not smart,” Case said. “We need everyone on the playing field.”

Case and Revolution partners are in town for its Rise of the Rest Road Trip, which is a biannual bus tour during which officials showcase startup scenes and host a pitch competition. Revolution has chosen eight startups to pitch Thursday evening in Chattanooga for a chance to win a $100,000-investment.

Rise of the Rest Seed Fund Partner David Hall, along with Case, got a glimpse of the startups that will pitch Thursday, and he said he’s already impressed.

Hall, who said he’s been coming to Chattanooga for a few years to attend events, such as Gig Tank, said he saw a strong product-market fit in the companies and said entrepreneurs were already answering questions investors want to know.

Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Christy Gillenwater said that having the road tour here is a sign the city is moving in the right direction.

“It’s extremely exciting,” she said. “It’s such a seal of approval, in my opinion, in terms of having a brand like Rise of the Rest [here]. For us to be selected…it propels our energy going forward.”

More work to do
While much of the talk and energy Thursday was celebratory, Case told the crowd at Songbirds that there’s more work to do here.

Longtime Chattanooga entrepreneur Sheldon Grizzle said that Chattanoogans can cheer for progress made, but they must keep building.

“I want to celebrate but we’ve got a lot more work to do than we’ve done and entrepreneurial and economic opportunity is not open to everybody in Chattanooga. So all boats are not rising yet.”

But he firmly believes in the power of entrepreneurship and of the public-private partnerships and in continuing to work so that opportunities are available to all types of people, he said.

Hall said there are a few ways to make sure opportunities to rise are available, and it starts early in schools, he said.

People need to be going into schools and telling young children about all the possibilities, he said.

“Talk about the job paths and the fact that you can do different things and you don’t need to leave Chattanooga,” he said.

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