AOL co-founder talks globalization, diversity

Case: U.S. 'at risk of losing entire sectors'

America Online co-founder Steve Case told an audience of entrepreneurs Friday that the United States needed to remain competitive in an increasingly globalized economy, and that Nashville and the nation could not "remain complacent."

Case ended the "Rise of the Rest" tour in Nashville on Friday, completing a four-city road trip emphasizing entrepreneurial regions outside of Silicon Valley and New York City. He told Nashville health care entrepreneurs to "double down" on investments and innovation, and later offered his perspective on the nation as a whole.

In a conversation with John Ingram, CEO of Ingram Content Group, Case said attracting talent based on a more open immigration policy was one way for the U.S. to remain competitive.

"Immigration is not a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to be seized," he said. "Policy matters and must be enhanced if we're going to remain the most entrepreneurial country."

It would be a mistake, Case said, to assume the U.S. has that title "locked in," and cited Singapore's research and development, China's focus on execution and a booming entrepreneurial economy in Africa as "intensifying the global battlefield."

"We're at risk of losing entire sectors because we're getting complacent," he said.

Case also spoke about increasing the diversity in American startups, admitting that Silicon Valley and other hotspots can be "tone deaf about the haves and have nots" and capital access inequality.

"The American dream is not as alive and well as it used to be 50 years ago," he said, but focusing on investments that offer community value and jobs alongside financial returns can improve the nation's prospects. Case also emphasized that investors and fellow entrepreneurs ought to offer extra support to women, minorities and entrepreneurs stuck in an ever widening income gap.

"It's harder to raise capital because it's traditionally an 'old boys' game,'" Case said. "But there's an obligation to be supportive of this community."


(Photo courtesy of Johnathan L Jones)