Steve Case, co-founder and former CEO of AOL, is feeling pretty optimistic about the state of entrepreneurship in the United States.
Case, who is now the CEO and chairman of investment firm Revolution, is gearing up to go on his sixth Rise of the Rest tour this fall—a nationwide tour to 26 emerging tech hubs between the coasts. "Venture capital should be flowing to companies from all over the country,” he said Monday at the TechCrunch Disrupt Conference in New York City. “We need to level the playing field."
In an on-stage interview, Case urged investors to look beyond Silicon Valley and New York for innovation. He has invested in companies such as Washington D.C.-based SweetGreen and Chicago-based predictive analytics SaaS company Uptake. "If VCs are only focused on places they can drive to, they're missing out on a lot of companies,” he says.
Case sat down with Fortune to talk business, investing, and even politics.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.
Fortune: You’ve spent the last few years traveling the U.S. What are some hubs of innovation we should be paying attention to?
Case: There’s obviously the top tier—San Francisco, New York, and Boston. There’s second tier—cities like Austin and Seattle. The places in that next tier include Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, and Boulder.
The surprise to most people is that there are great entrepreneurs everywhere. We need to do a better job of telling their story and educating investors on the coasts that there are opportunities in the middle of the country.
What is one company you’ve invested in that you think is a good example of the type of innovation we’re seeing between the coasts?
Uptake [a predictive analytics SaaS platform] based in Chicago. It was founded by Brad Keywell, one of the founders of Groupon, just about three years ago. They now have nearly a thousand employees, including 100 data scientists in Chicago. They’re scaling that company very quickly, and that’s a tech company people think would have to be in Boston or San Francisco.
More and more companies are automating entire departments and laying off employees as a result. What do you think automation means for the future of work?
Jobs will be lost because of new technology—whether it be AI or something else. Two hundred years ago, 88% of farming jobs were lost because of technology. Over 90% of people worked on farms, and now it’s under 2%. The fact that technology will destroy a lot of jobs is inevitable. What is not inevitable is, are we going to be able to offset that by creating jobs for people who have lost them? That’s where entrepreneurship comes in. There is a reason why a lot of people feel left out and left behind. We have to figure out a way to fix that. We have to start re-training workers so they are able to transition into new roles.
Which existing industry do you think is on the brink of getting disrupted by a new technology?
Healthcare. Right now, the issue is how do you create a healthcare system that’s about health and not just about sick care—while being more convenient and more affordable. Some of the healthcare companies that are popping up have the potential to do that. It’s such an important sector of the economy. It’s also so big and so ripe for disruption.
Speaking of healthcare, House Republicans recently passed a bill to replace Obamacare. Where do you see the future of healthcare going under Trump’s administration?
The bill has passed the House, but it will be dramatically different in the Senate. I think it’s premature to speculate. As President Trump has said, I do think healthcare is more complicated than he initially thought. It’s one of those things where if you pull on the string, it could unravel in unexpected ways. Exactly how it changes, time will tell, but my guess is that it will be more of a modification to Obamacare, as opposed to just throwing it out and starting over.
You’ve talked about the need to institute a “Startup Visa Program” to open the door for immigrant entrepreneurs. Do you think this is an initiative the current administration could consider?
I don’t think it’s an area of focus for the Trump administration right now because they’re focused on healthcare and taxes. I’m hopeful that the administration will support a startup visa because I think they will recognize that we need to win the global battle for talent. We’ve just got to figure out a way to continue being a magnet for talent.
Politically, Trump has probably concluded that he needs to deliver on some campaign promises he’s made first, but I am hopeful that in the next year or so, a startup visa or something similar will be put in place. People will say he’s been so aggressive on immigration that it’s unlikely he’ll support something like that, but I’m more optimistic.