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Steve Case Asks Entrepreneurs -- Are You Ready For the Third Wave?

Steve Case Asks Entrepreneurs -- Are You Ready For the Third Wave?

Steve Case, founder of AOL.

Image credit: Robert Scoble | Flickr
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We’re about to enter the Internet’s third age. Are you ready?

According to Steve Case, a prominent entrepreneur and the co-founder of AOL, the Internet has had three phases. The first period, lasting from 1985-2000, created the online landscape. The second, starting in 2001 and ending in 2015, made the Internet a vital and mobile component in our lives. The third age, which he says will begin next year, will accelerate disruption across all industries and force companies to adapt or die. Healthcare, education, transportation and food will all undergo radical innovation the third age.

"We are at a pivotal point in the internet's history," he says.

In this new world, entrepreneurs will have a great advantage, he says, but must "understand the battle ahead." At Austin’s SXSW, he identified the four "megatrends" he sees on the horizon, to which businesses must adapt in order to thrive.

Related: SXSW: What ClassPass Learned About Making Decisions Easier for Customers

1. Easier access to capital
Finding capital was difficult in the first age and slightly easier in the second. However, he’s confident that in the coming third, entrepreneurs will see a revolution in securing funding that will level the playing field. This movement will be fueled in part by the JOBS Act, which undoes certain roadblocks for business owners and investors. He also cites the power of platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which have democratized funding for creative projects. This new phase will "unleash a new wave of entrepreneur activity all over the country," Case says.

2. Strengthen through networks
Case says that successes in the third wave will depend on networks built around a company. For instance, he says, entrepreneurs looking to reinvent education will not be able to ignore teachers and schools and those revolutionizing healthcare will need to engage with doctors and hospitals. Additionally, the government will be an important ally as it remains a major funder for sectors such as health and education and as it reacts to a changing landscape with regulation. He suggests that entrepreneurs look at the public sector as vital customer, not a regulator. “The entrepreneur who figures out how to operate within this new framework has the potential to reap amazing awards," he says.

3. Social enterprises and impact investing
As younger companies emerge in this new age, social good will take center stage as companies will strive as much for purpose as profit. Many modern companies are already putting impact at the center of everything they do, with some trendsetting entrepreneurs publicly reporting on the social impact of their company as well as profit and loss. Companies such as Toms, Etsy show what lies ahead and others will need to take social good seriously to attract investment.

4. New hubs for innovation
While Silicon Valley will always be a leader, it will soon have company, says Case. He believes that cities in the middle of America, from Detroit to Nashville to St. Louis are well-positioned, with many home to Fortune 500 companies and untapped resources. As the third age fosters more entrepreneurial opportunities, cities like Indianapolis, Kansas City and Pittsburgh will become vital hot spots for young, crowdfunded endeavors. "We are starting to see what I call the 'rise of the rest.'"

And new hubs will form outside of the United States as well. Entrepreneurship in places like the Middle East and Africa can bring hope and opportunity to troubled regions. He cites a recent entrepreneurial event hosted in Tehran, Iran, where 500 Iranians gathered to discuss how the path forward must be focused on entrepreneurs. "It is also about lifting up communities and making a difference," he says. "We are now seeing the globalization of entrepreneurship," Case says.