Rise Of The Rest Tour Hits Florida, Celebrating Tech Ecosystems Outside Silicon Valley

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Rise of the Rest
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR LINCOLN PARTNERSHIP FOR ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Steve Case talks to a packed house during the Rise of the Rest Tour at the Rococo Theatre on Monday, Oct. 3, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Eric Francis/AP Images for Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development)

The Eighth Rise of the Rest Tour hosted by venture capital firm Revolution is underway in Florida through May 2. AOL founder Steve Case, the CEO of Revolution, began the Rise of the Rest initiative in 2014. Case has been a vocal believer in great companies being able to launch and scale outside of known tech hubs.

Rise of the Rest plans a Florida bus tour and programming geared around celebrating the local ecosystem of cities not located in Silicon Valley.

This year’s Florida bus tour includes stops in Orlando, the Space Coast, Tampa, and Miami before heading to Puerto Rico on May 3. At each stop, there’s a fireside chat and a pitch competition where eight startups (for a total of 32) will compete for a $100,000 investment from Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. Each startup must be located within 100 miles of the stop except for the Space Coast event, which will include startups from other states. The startups outside of Florida have a focus on space and aviation technologies.

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“In Florida, we look forward to learning more about how cities are innovating traditional industries and how local startup champions are working across the state to welcome entrepreneurs,” said J.D. Vance, managing partner of Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund.

“And in Puerto Rico, we will witness how startups are playing a critical role in revitalizing the island’s economy,” Vance said.

Revolution has 21 investments in the Southeast in its Rise of the Rest Seed Fund portfolio. Only two are in Florida. “We look forward to adding five more innovative companies from Florida and Puerto Rico to the portfolio,” Vance said in a press release.

The tour has generated excitement and discussion throughout Florida. Many see this tour as helping to shine a light on efforts on the ground to launch and grow successful companies. However, with only two of the 32 finalists being Black, others see the final list as a reminder that there’s work to be done in Florida’s tech community to encourage and elevate Black tech founders.

Meet the 2 Black finalists on Florida’s Rise of the Rest Tour

The Black tech community can empower itself and raise its visibility in Florida, said James Faison, founder of The Mainframe, a Tampa nonprofit pioneering breakthrough interaction between African American technologists and innovators in Florida. Faison is working to raise a $10-million dollar fund for Black tech companies in the state.

“The community has to become aware of what is going on within the overall startup ecosystem,” Faison said. “We have to develop processes to ensure we are giving a platform to educate the upcoming tech talent and we are providing the resources to help those ideas flourish.”

One of the 32 Florida Rise of the Rest finalists is Black tech founder SaLisa Berrien of COI Energy Services in Tampa. She said she’s “super impressed with what Steve Case and his team are doing.”

SaLisa is new to pitching. Her past fundraising experience has been from relationships, she said. “I’m going back to basics and learning how to tell the story and pitch.”

What could the win mean for COI? “At COI Energy, we’re really focused on making the world more energy efficient and making sure everyone understands how they can play a part in making our environment better,” she said. “My main focus for this event is to get the word out there that it’s really simple to change our environment and how we’re all treating it.”

Miami-based Kadion Preston is a co-founder of CaribShopper and the other Black founder finalist. Outside of participating in Techstars Demo Day 2018, this will be the first time Preston pitches for a competition. “We have been active in the Miami startup ecosystem and it is a true honor to represent our city,” Preston said.

The fact that the tour is coming to Florida shows the state’s strength and opportunities, and gives entrepreneurs and the venture community the confidence that they can build meaningful companies right here, Preston said.

Jacksonville venture capitalist and startup leader Jim Stallings will be attending the Orlando tour stop. The founder of PS27 Ventures, Stallings said the Rise of the Rest tour puts Florida’s startup ecosystem on the map.

“I think it’s great for Florida and Orlando,” Stallings said. “It demonstrates Florida is on the national map and proves the I-4 tech corridor centered around UCF, USF in health and biotech are key industries for growth and investment. This is not only an affordable place to live but a great place to start a big company, raise capital and attract tech talent. We have known this. This is why we chose to locate PS27 in Florida and started years ago investing in startups.”

This will be the first time that a Rise of the Rest tour spends the majority of its time in a single state, according to Revolution.

Winning the $100,000 prize from Revolution could be a nice boost but the value for participants goes beyond a financial investment.

Ashlee Ammons, a previous Rise of the Rest winner and co-founder of Mixtroz, shared with Moguldom what made the win important for her company. “Having the person who is essentially the grandfather of the internet validate our idea really helped us,” Ammons said. “There is a herd mentality when it comes to fundraising. Now with the win of a known investor, you’re able to go and take this information to the next potential one. You start to see movement because you got that one big bite. For us the impact was huge.”


About Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

Ebony T. Grimsley-Vaz is an author and digital marketing and PR expert for consumer brands, retailers, causes and events. Based in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, she owns Above Promotions, a digital marketing, publicity and promotions company. She wrote the book, "Because You're Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation."