Innovation often comes from the heart of America

Photo showing field in Wisconsin

In 1882, by dint of hard work and partnership, electricity reached the Appleton Paper and Pulp Company in Appleton, Wisconsin, nine years before electricity would light up the nation’s White House. Company executive Henry J. Rogers and his colleagues had managed the seemingly impossible, using technology and innovation to harness the Fox River’s turbulent waters, turning the Northeast Wisconsin night into day.

“As in Rogers’ day, it takes a few pioneers with vision to show the way,” writes Brad Smith, Microsoft president, and Carol Ann Browne, Microsoft director of executive communications, in a new post in the “Today in Technology” series on LinkedIn.

Over the past decade, no one has done more to highlight the opportunity for a new generation of innovation in the Midwest than Steve Case, the founder of America Online (AOL), Smith and Browne write. Case has used his “Rise of the Rest” bus trips to highlight opportunities for entrepreneurs in cities and towns across the center of the country, supporting his words with financial backing from his Revolution LLC investment fund.

“Increasingly Case’s message is reaching a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs working across Middle America,” Smith and Browne write. “They include the exciting work of two individuals, Joe Kirgues and Troy Vosseller, the co-founders of gener8tor, a nationally ranked accelerator based in Wisconsin that invests in high-growth startups, including in Appleton, Green Bay, and the rest of the Fox River Valley. Microsoft has had the opportunity to serve as a sponsor of gener8tor’s gBETA free accelerator for early-stage companies with local roots in Northeast Wisconsin.”

Case’s and gener8tor’s work is “part of what has inspired us to focus on what Microsoft can do to better support opportunities for technology innovation in every corner of the country,” they write. “As we’ve rolled up our sleeves and engaged with local communities, we’re starting to learn more about what’s needed to bring innovation back to smaller cities and towns in the United States. And this has directed some of our work in new directions.”

That work includes Microsoft’s recently launched Airband initiative to bring broadband coverage to at least 2 million new Americans over the next five years and, more importantly, to encourage policymakers across the country to take the additional steps needed to eliminate the rural broadband gap entirely by 2022; Microsoft’s TechSpark program, which is partnering with six communities outside the countries’ large cities to invest in and learn more about how technology can better support economic growth in these parts of the country; and the creation of Titletown Tech.

The latter was announced last month in conjunction with the Green Bay Packers NFL franchise in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It will be part of a new building that the Packers will open in Titletown next year, and not only include an accelerator for technology-focused start-ups, but also “a lab that will give traditional companies, including from the local paper industry, the opportunity for employees to work with mentors to develop new digital solutions to transform and grow their businesses,” Smith and Browne write. “The Packers and Microsoft are each putting $5 million over the next five years into the effort, and equally important, it will be supported by the volunteer efforts of Microsoft employees who will serve as mentors.”

Read the full post on LinkedIn.

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