Venture fund boss has eye on valley

Steve Case and his venture capital firm, Revolution LLC, expect Las Vegas and 11 other traditionally underserved cities to receive 80 percent of his company’s future investment dollars.

Traditionally, Case said, venture capitalists “would invest in companies they could drive to,” basically in Silicon Valley. Case, however, sees that trend changing as value investments sprout far beyond California’s technology hotbed.

“It’s much easier to start companies,” Case told reporters on a conference call Monday to launch his “Rise of the Rest” 2013 Investment Forecast. “It’s easier to get started wherever you might be.”

With all the technology in the world today, Case said, entrepreneurs don’t have to focus on a specific place or industry to succeed.

Case, 54, cited Dwolla, a mobile payment company in Des Moines, Iowa, and Chobani in New York, which has created 1,500 jobs to become a billion-dollar Greek yogurt company, as examples of successful startups outside traditional entrepreneurism hotbeds.

“Investors are going where the opportunities are,” Case said.

The Washington, D.C.–based firm has two main divisions: Revolution Ventures invests $5 million to $10 million in startups; another invests $25 million to $50 million in more established companies. Case, the co-founder of America Online Inc., formed Revolution in 2005 as a $500 million fund to invest in health care, wellness and other companies.

“We are really focusing our time and will continue to focus our capital, over 80 percent of our capital, in regions outside of Silicon Valley,” Case said.

In its eight-page forecast, Revolution expects $693 million in venture funding to find its way to startup companies in the Southwest this year, a region that includes Las Vegas. Although he wouldn’t give a time frame or specifics of any possible local deals, he did praise Tony Hsieh and his Downtown Project.

“What Tony Hsieh has done is remarkable, even if you don’t have a research institute, don’t have tradition … the Downtown Project can be the (catalyst) that builds the community,” Case said. “I’m optimistic that it will pay off.”

Hsieh, Zappos.com’s chief executive officer, is credited with helping nine startup companies in Las Vegas with his Downtown Project, which includes a
$50 million technology fund.

Commercial real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle reported that total venture capital investment in Las Vegas reached $15.5 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30, up 13.1 percent from a year earlier.

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