Books, Bonds and Bold Leadership

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of Steve Case’s new book, “The Third Wave.” Case, as you probably know, was a co-founder of America Online and served as the company’s CEO when it was valued at $163 billion, had over 22 million subscribers, was the top-performing stock of the 1990s, and was worth more than General Motors and Ford combined.

Case is now CEO of Revolution, a DC-based investment firm, and has been touring the country as part of what he has dubbed the “Rise-of-the-Rest” tour to focus on the extraordinary entrepreneurs and startups that are successfully launching and scaling their businesses. As part of his tour, Case visited Portland, Maine last summer and held a business pitch competition to award a deserving startup with some much needed investment.

Case’s book, which provides a glimpse into what we can expect from the next wave of the internet, also describes his personal and professional journey. It also offers Case’s insights on strategies and approaches for entrepreneurs to achieve greater success during the “third wave” of the internet.

He speaks of the importance of partnerships, policy and perseverance as crucial to navigating the landscape during the third wave. He offers one particular observation that is especially relevant.  He notes that, “it will always be government that defines – either through action or inaction – the environment in which entrepreneurship operates. At its best, government can create an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship can thrive, not by providing the certainty of success, but by mitigating risk and expanding the scale of opportunity.”

His insights are quite timely, especially given that the Maine Legislature completed its work on early Saturday morning and made a particularly momentous investment in Maine’s innovation ecosystem in the closing hours of the session. The Maine Legislature passed, and Governor LePage signed, a $50M bond that will go to voters in June of 2017, to invest in research and development infrastructure in Maine.  The passage of this bond bill positions Maine well to compete in the third wave, as well as to achieve innovation across our targeted technology sectors – biotech, composites, environmental, forestry and agriculture, information technology, marine and aquaculture, and precision manufacturing.

As Case aptly notes in his book, “throughout our history, innovation has come out of unlikely places. And, it will again.”   Indeed, one of those unlikely places is the State of Maine.  In fact, a Mainer holds U.S. Patent #1.  John Ruggles, an inventor, lawyer, and former US Senator from Thomaston, Maine secured US Patent #1, which was a type of train wheel designed to reduce the adverse effects of the weather on the track.

So, inventiveness is part of Maine’s DNA and the terms ingenuity and work-ethic are legendary traits of Maine workers and entrepreneurs. So, Mainers should take notice when Case issues the following call to action to our nation’s entrepreneurs: “to those who consider themselves entrepreneurs . . . our country – and the world – depends on you. Our future is going to rise and fall with the dreamers and doers, the builders of new technologies and the breakers of old orthodoxies.”

As I noted, Maine people have always demonstrated a propensity for inventing, innovating and tinkering. We simply refer to it as Yankee ingenuity.  In recognition of this inventiveness, Maine lawmakers took a bold and principled stand last week when they doubled-down on our state’s entrepreneurial proclivities, and paved the way for Maine’s dreamers and doers to access the funding they need to continue to build a robust innovation economy in our state.

Again, as Steve Case suggests in his book, “government can create an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship can thrive, not by providing the certainty of success, but by mitigating risk and expanding the scale of opportunity.” Through its $50M bond investment in research and development, our Legislature and Governor exhibited bold leadership and foresight in helping to create an environment where innovation can thrive in our state.  And, as a result, Maine, its economy, and its dreamers and doers, will undoubtedly flourish and prosper.