'Rest' stop: AOL co-founder Steve Case brings his tech startup funding tour to Baltimore

Hopkins-affiliated startups urged to apply for Sept. 28 pitch competition

Video: Revolution LLC

Baltimore's tech scene will get some time in the spotlight later this month when Steve Case's "Rise of the Rest" tour rolls into town. The five-city roadshow, through which the AOL co-founder and former CEO plans to invest $1 million in early-stage technology ventures, kicks off in Baltimore on Sept. 28.

Image caption: Steve Case

The bus tour, which is designed to bring attention and funding to startups beyond traditional tech hubs like Silicon Valley or New York City, will also give Johns Hopkins University a chance to show the part it plays in supporting Baltimore's bubbling culture of tech innovation.

"For Hopkins, this is great chance to showcase not only all the amazing work we've been doing over last few years, but also a way to demonstrate Hopkins' role in pushing economic development in the city and the region," says Elizabeth Smyth, director of strategic initiatives at Johns Hopkins Tech Ventures.

In each city it visits, "Rise of the Rest" hosts a pitch competition for startups, and judges award a $100,000 prize to the winning team. The tour also opens up opportunities for dialogue with Case's Washington, D.C.-based Revolution Ventures investment firm and its partners.

On a national level, the goal of "Rise of the Rest" is to tell the story of emerging American innovators. As Case told the Baltimore Business Journal last month, it's a story that warrants more attention in Baltimore.

"Too much of the focus is on the problems in Baltimore," he said. "We want to focus on the opportunity, particularly the opportunity being driven by entrepreneurs."

For Hopkins, the tour offers a chance to highlight the latest activities at Tech Ventures, which works to commercialize Hopkins-grown technology and, more broadly, plant seeds in Baltimore's entrepreneurial ecosystem. Tech Ventures helps nurture the growth of startups through its FastForward accelerator program, which runs two innovation hubs in Baltimore and plans to expand to a new space next year.

During a "Rise of the Rest" startup crawl planned for the morning of Sept. 28, Case and the Revolution team, along with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, will get a firsthand look at the FastForward space and an opportunity to speak with Hopkins entrepreneurs, Smyth said.

Tech Ventures has also been encouraging Hopkins-affiliated startups to enter the pitch competition, which is accepting applications through midnight on Sept. 13. The competition is open to any promising early-stage venture but is particularly geared toward startups with revenue models and clients already in place, Smyth says.

"We're very hopeful," Smyth says of Hopkins' chances of winning the competition. "We certainly feel like we have an amazing breadth and depth of technology."

The pitch competition and the celebration that will follow (both requiring RSVPs) will give local entrepreneurs "a great way to mingle with the like-minded," says Smyth, who encourages all members of the Hopkins innovation community to join in.

This marks the fourth "Rise of the Rest" tour through different parts of the country. Since launching the concept in 2014, Case and his team have made stops in 14 cities, investing a total of $1.5 million in startups. Revolution's partners on this leg include Google for Entrepreneurs and Salesforce for Startups.

After Baltimore, the tour heads to Philadelphia; Buffalo; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Portland, Maine.