It’s not every day that a billionaire comes to town and cuts a check for $100,000.
But that happened today when Steve Case, a venture capitalist and founder of AOL, came to central Pennsylvania with his “Rise of the Rest” tour, which stopped in York and Lancaster before ending in Harrisburg.
“Rise of the Rest” is a series of nationwide events promoting innovation outside of coastal areas. At each stop on the tour, Case visits local businesses, meets entrepreneurs and policy leaders and hosts a pitch competition for nascent startups.
The winner of the pitch competition receives a $100,000 investment from Case.
Today, that money went to Device Events, a York startup whose cloud-based software extracts and aggregates FDA data on adverse medical events and recalls. Founder and CEO Madris Tomes delivered the company’s pitch and accepted the prize money at the competition.
The central Pennsylvania pitch competition took place at H*MAC and was open to startups from the greater Harrisburg, Lancaster and York metro area.
Each of the nine startups had four minutes to deliver a pitch to Case and the judges. The six judges, who included Rosa Stroh, retired vice president and treasurer of the Hershey Co., and Timothy Reese, former Pennsylvania treasurer, had an equal amount of time to ask the entrepreneurs questions.
Before the pitch competition, Case participated in a moderated discussion at H*MAC with Penn State President Eric Barron. Gov. Tom Wolf appeared to give opening remarks, calling on central Pennsylvania to mend its regional divisions.
“I say I’m from York County, but really, we’re all from central Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “Together, we’re probably better than we even think we are.”
During the discussion, Case said that the regionalism he’s noticed in central Pennsylvania could hurt the area as a whole.
“Lancaster, Harrisburg and York will rise faster if it’s about central Pennsylvania, but that requires you to be more collaborative and less parochial,” he said.
Case praised the region for its strong work ethic and “humility.” He also said that central Pennsylvania has ample capital and wealth, as well as a population with expertise in many diverse sectors.
Case and Barron also touched on topics including diversity in tech and how to create opportunities for low-income or indebted students. Barron said that many low-income or first-generation college students have to be risk adverse, but the United States will have a “national problem” if they are precluded from entrepreneurship.
“There’s a whole population of creative, hardworking people who can’t take a step to get an idea out there, and we have to think about enabling those individuals,” Barron said.
He and Case discussed policies that would make the tech world more accessible for students, such as a loan deferment program for entrepreneurs or university scholarships for students to complete tech internships.
A 2017 Brookings Institute report found that entrepreneurship is driving economic growth in the Harrisburg metro area. Between 2010 and 2015, jobs at young firms (those aged five years or less) grew by 16.8 percent, the report said.
During the same time period, however, annual wages fell for African Americans and Asians in the region.
That trend mirrors national data suggesting that the tech boom isn’t benefitting all Americans equally. Case and Barron discussed the fact that less than 10 percent of tech funding goes to women, and less than 1 percent to African Americans.