Steve Case makes a spur-of-the-moment million-dollar investment in 10 start-ups


Steve Case, chief executive officer of Revolution LLC, made a hefty (and surprise) investment in 10 up-and-coming start-ups Wednesday. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Venture capitalists are increasingly looking for young, innovative companies in areas outside of traditional technology hubs such as Boston, New York and California’s Silicon Valley. And few are scouring the country quite like Steve Case.

Case, the former chairman of America Online, announced plans Thursday to invest $100,000 in each of 10 tech start-ups in cities such as Durham, N.C.; Nashville; and Minneapolis. He made the decision after hearing the companies describe their businesses at an event Wednesday sponsored by Google at the search giant’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

“I was so inspired by the consistent quality of each of the pitches that I made an on-the-spot decision to support each company,” Case, one of the investors behind Revolution Ventures in Washington, said in a statement.

Case has spearheaded a campaign in the past few years to unearth promising new technology ventures in every corner of the country, particularly areas that have been historically underserved by angel investors and venture capital groups. Calling the movement “the rise of the rest,” Case has urged investors and policymakers to look beyond Google’s and Facebook’s back yard when trying to cultivate innovation and entrepreneurship.

Google invited the companies to its campus to pitch to investors after the start-ups won local competitions. None were guaranteed to walk away with any capital.

A start-up called Windsor Circle claimed one of Case’s $100,000 infusions. Judges at the event crowned Windsor Circle the top company. The start-up, which hails from the American Underground business incubator in Durham, offers software that helps online retailers retain customers through targeted, data-driven marketing.

“For us, winning on a national stage like that reads as ‘Boom, we just punched a ticket and proved that one of the hottest marketing start-ups in the country is located in Durham, North Carolina,’ ” Matt Williamson, Windsor Circle’s chief executive, said in an interview.

Others pitching at the event included Automated Insights, also from Durham, whose technology converts big data patterns into easy-to-read narratives, and Detroit’s iRule, which lets users control their televisions and lighting from their smartphones.

The lone representative from the health-care sector, Nashville’s InvisionHeart, provides software that transmits cardiac patients’ data between health-care providers and cardiologists in real time. Meanwhile, Chicago was represented by WeDeliver, a service that allows anyone to work as a delivery person for local businesses such as florists and restaurants, and MarkITx, a marketplace where companies can buy and sell used IT hardware.

Capital Business is The Post’s weekly publication focusing on the region’s business community. For more Washington business news, go to capbiz.biz.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.

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