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May 13, 2018 | Tom Ballard

ROTR stop in Chattanooga draws praise for city, important distinction for TN

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

When Steve Case and his colleagues arrived in Chattanooga Thursday for the fourth stop on the “Rise of the Rest (ROTR) Road Tour” through the South, it marked several milestones.

One, previously noted, was it made Tennessee the state with the most number of stops thus far. He visited Nashville in June 2014 and Memphis last Tuesday. With three cities out of 38 – Louisville was the destination on Friday, nearly one out of every 12 stops was in the Volunteer State.

That’s huge for Tennessee, and something we should celebrate.

It was also a milestone for the team that backs-up Case and the seed fund that makes a $100,000 investment in a start-up at each stop.

“This is the first time our entire ‘Rise of the Rest’ team has ever been on the same stage,” said Anna Mason, ROTR Seed Fund Partner who moderated the fireside chat that featured Case and three others – J.D. Vance, ROTR Managing Partner; and David Hall and Mary Grove, both ROTR Partners.

As reported in our Friday article announcing that FreightWaves had won the $100,000 prize, we noted that the fireside chat at the iconic Waterhouse Pavilion began amid driving rain, wind, thunder and lightning. It did not dampen the spirits and, fortunately, the skies became friendlier as the conversation continued with sunlight beaming into the facility by the start of the pitch competition.

As Case has noted regularly in television appearances, presentations and on the ROTR tour, 75 percent of the venture capital investments annually go to start-ups in three states. The rest of the country shares the remaining 25 percent.

“Less than one percent comes to Tennessee,” he said, adding that 90 percent of all venture funding nationally goes to men, and only one percent is invested in companies founded by African Americans.

“We are trying to level the playing field for entrepreneurs everywhere,” Case said of the initiative.

The ROTR Fund is looking for breakthrough companies and invests at three stages of a start-up’s evolution. They are early/seed where Case said the typical investments are $250,000 to $500,000 and are based on the team and its idea. At the venture stage, they could commit $5 million or more based on the recipient having some customers/revenue. Investments in later stage companies could breach $30, $40 or $50 million, and those dollars are intended to greatly accelerate growth.

“I don’t know which of the 37 cities we’ve visited will be the next (national entrepreneurial) leader,” Case said. “There are reasons to be optimistic about what’s going on here. Opportunity exists for this city to rise in ways that might surprise you and other cities.”

In a presentation earlier in the day, Case says he told attendees that they were just in the first inning of a baseball game. After one of the participants said he had already been at it for 19 years, Case agreed to modify his observation to the second inning.

Regardless, the point was clear. It’s a long journey for any community because it’s a long journey for most entrepreneurs. Yet, with the spotlight on Chattanooga, one of the smaller cities among the 37, it was a day to celebrate.

UPCOMING: Some additional insights from other ROTR Partners.


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