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Florida has a robust startup community, but data suggests the strength of Florida’s entrepreneurial activity has a long way to go to match the funding received by states like California, New York and Massachusetts – where nearly 80 percent of venture capital goes.

However, a recent visit by Steve Case, chairman and CEO of D.C.-based venture firm Revolution and co-founder of AOL, may be just what the doctor ordered.

“When we look at the funding landscape and see the same people, places and ideas getting funded, it should give us pause,” explained Mark Rucci, community manager for Revolution’s $150-million Rise of the Rest Seed Fund.

Rucci is part of a team that believes democratizing access to capital for entrepreneurs is vital for a healthy economy. As a community manager, he supports over 120 companies in which Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund has an investment. He also works with policymakers, investors, ecosystem builders, and corporations to foster innovation across the country.

“Steve and the team are betting fundamentally that the most transformative ideas and companies are going to be born out of cities all across the country; not just a select few,” Rucci said.

In 2014, Case launched a nationwide initiative that identifies pockets of innovation and invests in select startups in spaces that might not otherwise have exposure to large funding opportunities.

Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Road Trip with Steve Case has toured 43 cities and traveled over 11,000 miles since inception. This year, the tour included four stops in Florida and one in Puerto Rico, placing a national spotlight on three cities in the 23-county Florida High Tech Corridor (The Corridor) region: Orlando, Tampa and Melbourne/Space Coast.

The 2019 competition solicited applications from startups within a 100-mile radius of each city, except for the Space Coast competition, which accepted applications from any startup focused on accelerating innovation in aerospace and aviation technology. Florida’s entrepreneurs rose to the occasion, contributing to a record 540 applications to compete for investment from Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund.

When evaluating submissions, Revolution searched for innovative startups in large, complex markets that lack visibility and backing. Each champion received $100,000 from the seed fund. Winners from The Corridor were:

  • Orlando – AireHealth, which was developed to positively impact more than 100 million people in the United States with respiratory illness by utilizing a technologically advanced nebulizer;
  • Tampa – Immertec, which leverages its patented, 3D livestreaming technology to broadcast fully immersive virtual reality videos and overlays for training applications across a range of different industries; and,
  • Space Coast – Atomos, which is solving the last-mile problem in space by providing an in-space transportation service that will help lower launch costs for today’s satellite operators.
Read more here about the winners, their companies and their advice for other entrepreneurs.

Second only to funding, Rucci cited the support of mentors as key to building transformative companies. Willingness to collaborate is one of the keys to network density, described Rucci.

“It all comes back to our core thesis: you can find high-quality ideas from high-quality entrepreneurs all across America if you spend the time and the resources to support them.”

Indeed, beyond pitch competitions, Revolution provides year-round resources for regions aspiring to support their entrepreneurial communities. The tour also accepts regional nominations throughout the year. Last year, the group collected insights from leaders across the country and published its findings in the Ecosystem Playbook, an invaluable tool for startups and growing markets.

“Several entities are found to be vital for a successful startup ecosystem: the availability of capital via regional investors, supportive policies from state and local governments, strong colleges and universities, demonstrated success through tent pole companies, active startup support organizations like incubators and accelerators, engaged local media and established corporations willing to serve as customers, mentors or acquirers,” said Rucci. “The collaboration of these entities drives the growth of startup ecosystems.”

Prior to touring Florida, the Revolution team spent several months in a dialogue with investors, municipal officials, academic leaders and others about the importance of collaboration to Florida’s success. They found a “growing entrepreneurial core and organizational expertise” that create an attractive environment for startups.

In The Corridor, for example, collaboration starts with regional public-private partnerships backed by three research universities – the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida – that drive applied research for commercialization and offer globally recognized incubators. Additionally, large companies throughout the region – Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, Lockheed Martin, Tech Data, NASA, SpaceX, Electronic Arts and many more – allow early-stage startups to thrive by boosting workforce development and granting access to the latest technological advancements.

These assets are beginning to attract investors like Case, who said he hopes the Sunshine State will be known 50 years from now “not only for hospitality and tourism, but also for its flourishing startup community.” The state remains steadfast in its efforts to pair global investors with local entrepreneurs and balance the distribution of seed funds, but for now, programs like Revolution’s “Rise of the Rest Road Trip” are critical to closing the gap.

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