AOL co-founder Steve Case wants to take in entrepreneurs' new ideas, to pick their brains, before picking one to receive an investment of $100,000.
"The idea has to be more than a scribble on a paper napkin," he said Monday. "There has to be something to show, a product with some momentum that needs a boost of cash but hasn't gotten big enough to get the interest of venture capitalists."
Case has been on this mission for a year or so, clocking 3,000 miles on a bus, visiting towns (14 so far) on an entrepreneurial funding and promotion project called "Rise of the Rest."
"There's a lot of great talent and great ideas coming out of places besides Silicon Valley, New York, and Boston that get all the national media attention and VC investment," he said.
Take, PartPic in Atlanta, "which is like the Shazam for finding replacement parts," he said, or Sole Power in Pittsburgh, "which makes power generating shoe inserts," or Bidr, the Charleston, S.C., Rise of the Rest winner, "which helps event organizers raise funds."
On Sept. 29, Case will run that gauntlet in Philadelphia, luring start-ups for a show-and-tell organized by his Washington, DC.-based investment firm Revolution with help from Philadelphia's manager of entrepreneurial investment, Archna Sahay.
"First we'll take him around town, show him all the Philadelphia tech zones, up to the Northern Liberties/Old City/'Nerd Street' area, then to Center City, out to University City, and down to the Navy Yard, also with stops to take in maker community centers like NextFab," Sahay said. "Then we'll stage the pitch event at the end of the day, in a funky space that can hold 500 to 700 spectators, with local professionals joining Steve in the judging."
Case said he would not mind if the pitching happened "on the mall near the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. Philadelphia was truly America's start-up city. And Ben Franklin was one of America's first great inventors."
Of course, Case is a major success story, too. He masterminded the first Internet company to go public in 1992 - AOL - "then with 200,000 customers," sold it off a decade later to Time-Warner "valued at market cap of $150 million, with 25 million customers."
Case already has his hall pass to the White House. In fact, he'll be helping out Tuesday at the first White House demo day, talking up the cause of American innovation and introducing some of his off-the-beaten- track finds as the first "Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship."
And he's a "glass-half-full guy," Case said. "You'll see that when we visit. We keep the pitch presentations positive, stay optimistic. We're not trying to tear people down just to make a dramatic TV show."
Ah, but when all is said and done, the guy just might have one.
"Video cameras are rolling," Case said, "all the time."
Want to pitch a product or service? Sahay said all are welcome to apply as long as they are in or near Philadelphia by visiting www.riseofrest.com. The submission window closes Sept. 13 at 11:59 p.m.
Eight entrepreneurs will be selected to make a four-minute pitch, then have three more minutes to amplify the presentation in a back and forth with judges.