The co-founder of American Online Inc., Steve Case, told hundreds of people at a technology focused conference in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday that innovation and entrepreneurship are needed to help grow the nation's economy and create jobs.
Case was the closing speaker at the CED Tech Venture Conference, a two-day event at the Raleigh Convention Center. The conference showcased emerging technology companies in the state.
As of Monday, about 650 people had registered for the conference, said Jason Parker, a spokesman for the Durham-based Council for Entrepreneurial Development, the entrepreneurial support organization that hosted the event.
There were also expected to be more than 75 companies on display at the conference as well, including budding technology firms from Durham and Chapel Hill.
At the conference, Case spoke about his early inspiration as an entrepreneur, as well as co-founding and building America Online Inc. when he said use of the Internet wasn't mainstream. The company went public in 1992.
In building the company, Case also said the business saw obstacles, including seeing potential competitors emerge with strong financial partners. He said the company had been "at it for awhile" before it was finally able to break through.
In 2001, America Online merged with Time Warner Inc. when Case said AmericaOnline was seeing about $5 billion in revenue. The sale was the "right thing to do," Case said, explaining that there was potential in the merger to drive initiatives such as in digital music. However, he said, not everybody bought into the vision.
"To me, it should have been natural, things that would have come out of it," Case said. "If you don't have people working together in a collaborative way, (you may) not be able to execute in however great (a) vision...," he added.
As part of the sale, Case said he agreed to step aside as CEO of AmericaOnline. After that, he said, Revolution was born. Revolution is a firm that he said invests in entrepreneurs "with big ideas who want to change the world." Case is chairman and CEO of Revolution.
The firm is interested in early-stage entrepreneurs looking to attack hard problems that can improve people's lives, Case said. Through Revolution Growth, he said they're also investing in growth-stage companies.
Case also said he believes there is too much focus -- as well as too much capital -- chasing companies in California's Silicon Valley. While he said the area is the nation's "best entrepreneurial ecosystem," other areas are seeing the growth of good companies that don't have as much focus, or as much access to capital.
"Our bias is to invest outside of Silicon Valley," he said. "I believe we're seeing a very exciting thing in the country -- the rise of the rest," he added.
In addition to his working investment in them, Case also touted his political efforts to help entrepreneurs.
Case was in Durham last year for a meeting of President Obama's Jobs and Competitiveness Council, a council made up of senior executives from companies like Southwest Airlines and Facebook -- as well as Case -- that was charged with thinking up job growth strategies.
"We made our recommendations to the president, (and) a roadmap around making sure we remain (the most) entrepreneurial...," Case said.
He also highlighted the crowdfunding provision in the federal JOBS Act that will allow many different people to buy ownership stakes in companies, up to a certain amount.
"I think thousands of companies will get started or scaled because of crowdfunding, most of that action (will be) in parts of the country that right now don't have access to the (capital)," he said.
He said the crowdfunding provision of the JOBS Act modified legislation from 1933 that he said restricted equity investments to "accredited investors" who have enough money to afford to be able to take risks.
While he said there was concern about fraud impacting individuals by allowing crowdfunding, he also said that people take risks whenever they buy a house, or buy stock. He said the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is in a rulemaking process that he said is part of the law's investor protection assurances.
"And while this is true, and we all know this -- that investing in start-ups is risky; that is the nature of investment -- it's also true that some of those companies will end up growing," Case said.
Case also said young, high-growth companies are job creators, and asked what's needed to be done to unleash the next wave of entrepreneurs that will create jobs.
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