"Tell me about the South. What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they live at all?"
-Shreve McCannon, William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!
"For it is motion that is important. And I was moving...at seventy-five miles an hour, through a blur of million-dollar landscape and heroic history..."
"If you could not accept the past and its burden, there was no future, for without one there cannot be the other; if you could accept the past you might hope for the future, for only out of the past you might make the future."
Jack Burden, Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men
I grew up in the South -- was born and raised in Atlanta -- and, to paraphrase William Faulkner, in the South, the past isn't dead -- it's not even past. This week, though, I'll be on a bus tour of the South that is bridging past and future.
The "Rise of the Rest" initiative, launched by Steve Case and Revolution, focuses on supporting entrepreneurs who create economic opportunity across the country. The initiative is built on the premise that though the majority of the world's investment in entrepreneurs happens in three U.S. states -- California, New York, and Massachusetts -- yet great ideas are everywhere, and entrepreneurs in "the rest" will be the engine of economic growth, social mobility, and self-reliance worldwide. The first two tours visited the Rust Belt and the Midwest, and I'm excited to be taking the whole tour through the South -- Richmond, Raleigh-Durham, Charleston, Atlanta and New Orleans.
The first thing you need to understand to grasp the South is storytelling, and I've quoted the two great bards, Faulkner and Penn Warren, to explain why this trip is important. I have long felt like most of the venture capital community views entrepreneurship in the South the way Shreve McCannon, the Harvard roommate, views his protagonist Quentin Compson in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom -- he simply does not understand what happens in the region at all, what people do, or what value exists. We'll be telling some great stories this week of entrepreneurs who can change that perception.
The second thing you need to know to really get the South is that history underlies everything. This week, we'll be exploring many of America's oldest and greatest cities and seeing how startups are reinventing themselves in the middle of history and in the face of change.
May 4th in Richmond, we'll see how startups are revitalizing one of the country's oldest and most successful business districts; May 5th in Raleigh-Durham, we'll look at how over 300 growing businesses are occupying the old American Tobacco Campus, and what was once the economic backbone of the city can be again. May 6th in Charleston, we will see entrepreneurs present on the deck of the USS Yorktown, across the harbor from Fort Sumter, building the future in the sometimes-dark shadow of history.
May 7th, I'm excited to come home to Atlanta, we'll partner with the Atlanta Tech Village -- a re-built entrepreneurial community in a formerly-foreclosed office building in a commercial district that was the core of the New South's miraculous, real-estate-driven, and ultimately unsustainable growth in the second half of the twentieth century, and the hardest-hit by the Great Recession in 2008, and we'll be in the middle of the most thriving ecosystem for African-American entrepreneurs in the country. And May 8th in New Orleans, we'll be part of an renaissance that has helped the city rebuild from the great nightmare Katrina to a city that is one of the fastest-growing in the country. Jean and Steve Case will lead a conversation on how entrepreneurship can be more inclusive, and then, being Friday afternoon in New Orleans, we'll have a celebration.
I'm writing from the bus, moving seventy-five miles an hour down I-95 into my home region of the Southeast, and I'm excited to be with great entrepreneurs over the next week who are accepting the past and its burden -- and making the future out of the past as only entrepreneurs can.
If you're not from the South, we'll tell you about it. If you are, come join the show. Either way, ride along with us.