Financial Inclusion

Hillbilly Elegy Author J.D. Vance Heads To Ohio In Search Of Investment Opportunities

Before writing the year’s surprise nonfiction hit Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance was a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, albeit one with a background quite different than that of those around him.

And it seems Vance is getting back to his roots — both as a VC and as a resident of the rust belt. According to reports, Vance is heading home to Ohio on the hunt for venture deals for Steve Case’s investment vehicle Revolution LLC.

Going forward, Vance will locatable in Columbus — and on the hunt for firms that might otherwise be ignored by the venture funding mechanism in the U.S. And there are some serious funds on offer — Revolution funds has over $1 billion in capital to hand out to firms at all stages of development

The goals of the fund are twofold. The first is the obvious one, and the goal of all investment: Find the next Facebook and make a whole lot of money. But Vance has said that he also is interested in changing the complexion of economic development in the U.S., which tends to be unevenly balanced toward the coasts — and toward elite cities on the coast in particular. In 2010 California companies received $28.4 billion in venture funds out of a total $52.4 billion that were handed out in total. Ohio, by comparison, attracted $303 million, and Kentucky $22 million.

“A lot of problems I write about are not entirely economic,” said Vance. “But a lot of these areas have been left behind, and it does add to the problems and makes it harder to solve them. There is a lot of energy and untapped resources in these cities.”

Vance’s most recent post was at Mithril Capital, the venture vehicle for noted Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel, and Vance had affirmed he will continue to work with Mithril. At Revolution, he said he isn’t focused on specific industry sectors or geographies other than the “47 states” that receive 20 percent of the nation’s venture commitments. Case and Vance became involved through an exchange on Twitter — and from there hatched a plan to work together. Case has been promoting entrepreneurship as a path for development in America outside the hubs in Silicon Valley and Boston.

“We’re trying to do what we can to level the playing field,” Case said. “J.D.’s experience as an investor and understanding the sentiment of a lot of people struggling brings us a reputation to take ‘The Rise of the Rest’ to the next level.

Added Vance, “My metric for success is, do we elevate the conversation and bring attention to these ecosystems, and in the process, do we close the capital and jobs gaps?”

Vance is coming off his appearance at Innovation Project 2017 last week — where he spoke to the assembled about one of the central problems affecting rural communities, which is simply a lack of interest, and his larger interest in tapping into their potential.

Vance said, “I ask myself that sometimes … Why is it the case that … so many of these technologies that are or could [be] life-changing innovations aren’t making it to the middle parts of the country? There … also should be a recognition that these financial institutions are not going after these customers.”

And something needs to be done soon — because as Karen Webster noted in a recent article, over half the country lives on less than $36,000 worth of household income per year, and it is creating downward pressure on lives everywhere.

“Businesses thrive in a more certain political environment — ours seems uncertain now. It’s hard to have a happy stable society when so many people don’t think it’s working for them and when the numbers speak pretty loudly that it isn’t,” Webster noted. “I think that innovators can be part of the problem or part of the solution.”

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