'Create the next Amazon' and other thoughts from entrepreneur Steve Case

AOL co-founder visits Johns Hopkins to kick off new Anchor Ventures speaker series

Two men site at front of room and address crowd

Image caption: Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Steve Case (right) kicked off the new Anchor Ventures speaker series on Thursday at FastForward 1812 in East Baltimore.

Credit: @the_clearmask

Seventy-five years ago, Silicon Valley was fruit orchids and Detroit was dominating the most exciting industry in the nation. "Things can change," Steve Case said of the tidal shifts of the U.S. innovation economy.

The famed entrepreneur and venture capitalist—who co-founded AOL before anyone believed in the Internet, and now heads the venture capital firm Revolution—visited Johns Hopkins on Thursday night to kick off a new speaker series.

Anchor Ventures, a partnership between JHU's Tech Ventures and the University of Maryland's equivalent, will host monthly gatherings to nurture connections for local entrepreneurs and investors. Funded by TEDCO, the events are inspired by a similar "café" model in Boston. Thursday's conversation was moderated by TEDCO CEO George Davis.

As the inaugural speaker, Case—whose Rise of the Rest tours focus on emerging startup scenes outside the traditional hubs—shared insight on what that scene looks like, both locally and nationally. Among his thoughts:

On what other cities can learn from Silicon Valley: "The high degree of collaboration and connectivity" in the tech hotspot should serve as inspiration, Case said, along with its openness to risk. "There's a fearlessness in Silicon Valley, ... that spirit of adventure and possibility."

On the "third wave of the Internet": Waging battle against giants like Google and Amazon—or even developing eye-catching apps—is "yesterday's battle," Case said. Today's innovators need to focus on revolutionizing fundamental industries—health care, agriculture, smart cities, etc.—from the ground up. Pointing to Baltimore's health sector, Case said the "real task is getting [new tech] integrated" with formal partnerships so regulators can approve it and doctors can actually use it.

On the frenzy for Amazon HQ2: To the 218 cities—including Baltimore—that failed to make the list of 20 finalists being considered to host Amazon's second headquarters, Case encouraged harnessing the same collective energy that went into creating their pitches toward local innovation. "How do you create the next Amazon as opposed to luring some portion of the existing Amazon?"

On lessons from Rise of the Rest: "What's fascinating to me is every city has its own story" connected to its past, Case said of his six road trips to more than 30 cities. Pittsburgh, for example—once steel capital powering the Industrial Revolution—is a now a hub for robotics. Post-Katrina New Orleans has developed an "ed tech cluster" to reinvent its previously failing school system.

On Baltimore's potential: The city's strong health sector, adjacency to D.C., and "tremendous base of talented companies and organizations, Hopkins and Under Armour among them," offer huge advantages for its innovation culture, Case said—if the local community "can get organized and connected and attract more capital."

What's next for Anchor Ventures?

The next event for the speaker series, with a special focus on medical solutions, will take place March 15 at the UMBC Columbus Center in the Inner Harbor.

That location is one of three through which the series will rotate, including Johns Hopkins' FastForward 1812 (where Thursday's event took place) and University of Maryland's GRID space.

Stay connected on Anchor Ventures' webpage, Facebook, and Twitter.