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Steve Case: Looking for 'Speedups,' Not Just Startups

Posted by: Nick Leiber on February 1, 2011

Yesterday the White House launched its Startup America Partnership, a private sector campaign that is part of recent initiatives by the Obama Administration to better support—and thus wring more jobs out of—high potential ventures.

The campaign isn’t limited to early-stage companies or specific sectors or regions. “Our focus is as much on what we think of as ‘speedups,’ not just startups, says Startup America’s chair, Steve Case, best known as co-founder of AOL and an architect of its ill-fated merger with Time Warner. “Our primary focus will be on accelerating the growth of high-growth companies. They have to be demonstrating that they’re pursuing some product or service that really has the potential to scale. With the capital or mentoring or partnerships or what have you, they can break through and go to the next level.”

Beyond spurring more of this type of ‘growth’ entrepreneurship, metrics for the campaign’s success are fuzzy. “We’re soliciting ideas from everybody,” says Case, who calls the campaign a “multiyear effort.”

While it seems like business as usual for the venture capital arms of large corporations that have committed to invest millions of dollars in participants, Case says “it’s a sign companies are willing to step up and encourage entrepreneurship.” He acknowledges the campaign “still has a lot of work to do.”

Case, chairman of the Case Foundation and CEO of Revolution, which has invested his own money in 20 or so companies such as LivingSocial and Zipcar, says the effort gives him an opportunity to “give back in a broader way; not just focus on the handful of companies and entrepreneurs I work with directly but try to be supportive of the White House’s more broad agenda and the country’s need.”

For entrepreneurs who want to get involved, Case is looking for ideas that justify making Startup America a priority in the White House. “We recognize there are lot of good ideas out there that we’re not aware of. We want to make sure we are aware of them before we set our priorities.”

Case is most eager to hear about ways to accelerate ecosystems that support entrepreneurship. For example, “MassChallenge, TechStars, and others that are sort of incubators-accelerators: how do you scale them up in markets where they currently exist and bring them to markets where they don’t exist? [As an example,] I’ll use my own personal experience in Washington, D.C. 25 years ago when we started AOL, there really wasn’t an entrepreneurial ecosystem here—now it’s developing quite nicely… Which is great but there are a lot of regions where that has not yet happened and we’re hoping to nurture that in the years ahead.”

Reader Comments

Lee Maddox

February 1, 2011 10:31 AM

Dear Mr. Case,

Core to start-ups and speed ups is a solid talent strategy. This would cover a situation analysis of where competitors are trending, the gaps that exist in ready and pipeline talent, and anticipation of market shifts. Great ideas need strategy, planning, execution, and measurement of top talent.

I am open to helping.


February 1, 2011 3:51 PM

StartUpAmerica is just more useless public relations and cheerleading. Of course we should encourage start-ups, but it is much more important to seek breakthroughs.

Energy is a good example - DOE and private industry have spent $400 billion in the last 20 years on R+D and financing for green technologies and yet we still haven't found "clean, affordable electricity." That's the goal.

During the last two years DOE (with Stimulus funds) has spent more than $30 billion on "development deals," primarily for over-priced and under-performing wind and solar schemes. Most of these projects received 100% "loan guarantees" and those loans can never be repaid. They are grants.

America (and the world) should get serious about finding a breakthrough by offering a $1 billion prize for a solution. DOE should hold an Energy Summit and review ALL potential solutions. We would either find a breakthrough or understand exactly where we are.

It is delusional to continue to pretend that wind and solar can meet our energy needs - they never will. America has made progress because of competition and reward and now is a good time to remember that, Offer a PRIZE and let's get busy seeking a real, sustainable solution.


February 2, 2011 1:12 PM

Foolish political posturing! What makes anyone believe that our gov't. can pick winners better than the free market. There is so much pent up capital that any "sure thing" would draw a prompt financial surge.

Mike Sheppard

February 2, 2011 3:20 PM

To: Start Up America
Mr. Steve Case, Mr. Carl Schram and Mr. David Washington PhD and Pres. Barak Obama,
Hello, Great Idea, just what everyone needs across America, the World and me.
I am a 69 yoa retired safe trucker and aspiring entrepreneur, barely surviving on social security. I have been working on a project for quite a while (starting date is ‘Confidential’ as it is related to proprietary issues). I contend that I am ready for a seed injection. I personally finish the text of my business plan, now actively trying to garner assistance to complete my excel spread sheets as I only have a GED. However, Medical Professional are amazed by the Complexity of my innovation which is superior in its underserved market. They ask, What is your medical background, I tell them, Meloni’s Med. dictionary.
I just got involved with a non-profit NGO here in Chattanooga called, ‘Create Here’. They focus on teaching their clients to develop a business plan. Since I have a plan, I am taking the course because it is required to get funded. The second stage group assist in helping you implement your Plan and find funding but only after you use the Entrepreneurial Readiness Survey of where I personally was not surprised to get an average Venture Readiness Level (VRL) score of 3.28 out of 6.0. We are ready to go up on the net, get the show and tell on the road and watch GDP and CS indices trend up.
The point is, I would have scored higher if I had money to fulfill more requirements the survey ask for. I have exhausted my savings in R & D ($50K-$0) My last $100 bucks was spent on incorporating. From Soc. Sec. each month I sometimes have $100 to spend on whatever the business needs after the bills.
I would be interested in qualifying for Start-Up America help. I could be a Poster Boy for Pres. Obama’s’ next Press-Photo Opp and 2012 Campaign. We have a minimal budget with stages and could be revenue sustaining in a short time. Plus more exciting promotional issues and stories. Many things are in place and we could have this innocuous project Up and Going creating several industries, boosting Jobs, Retail, Commerce, Exports and American pride while….Reducing the cost of Healthcare, Safety and Prevention. Please before making any assumptions please request and read my business plan to judge for yourself. People who test it are asking, “when are you going to place this on the market.” I ask them, which model? It supports Five different Sales and Business Models.
Please, Contact me and tell me how I may proceed to qualify and secure Start-Up America funding.
Thank You. Best Regards and God Bless the United States of America,
M.Bernard Sheppard
Below is the site I reference, You may need an account to open and view. I can make my account available upon request. In the Technology Commercialization Tutorial pdf; On page 29 You find; “An entrepreneur is dependent upon their own resources and friends and family for opportunities with a VRL below 2.0. Angel investors usually invest in deals between 2.0 and 4.0 while venture capitalist make “early-stage” investments at VRL 4.0, “mid-stage” investments at VRL 5.0, and acquisitions and Initial Public Offering at VRL 6.0.”

John Stephens

February 2, 2011 5:40 PM

Hi Steve,
My name is John Stephens, owner of Performance Irrigation Systems, Inc. here in Ft. Myers, Fl.
My company installed your sprinkler system at your residence on Captiva Is. a few years ago, as a sub contractor thru R. S. Walsh Landscaping. I was just wondering if my business plan might be a good fit for your project. It is a water conservation product/application that is completely scalable, green, and on my small scale has rave reviews. How does the incubator/accelerator paradigm work in a rather mundane arena? Your thoughts on this would be most welcome.
Thank you.


February 2, 2011 5:45 PM

Dear Mr. Case,
I have a clean-tech company with a new, innovative, energy efficiency technology. I have exploding market demand. I have my channel to market already secured. I have a solid core of dedicated employees all of who are working off-payroll. And I have no working capital to purchase product and pay employees to meet demand. I need an A round to fund my business and the venture capital world all say to come back when I'm ready for my B round.

Who can I talk to to help solve me solve my problem?

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What's it like to run your own company today? Entrepreneurs face multiple hurdles new and old, from raising capital and managing employees to keeping up with technology and competing in a global marketplace. In this blog, the Small Business channel's John Tozzi and Nick Leiber discuss the news, trends, and ideas that matter to small business owners. Follow them on Twitter @newentrepreneur.

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