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AOL Co-Founder Steve Case Urges Entrepreneurs to Embrace Policymaking Process

It’s one thing to make a health or education app, but another thing to actually integrate it with hospitals and schools—that requires policymakers, AOL co-founder Steve Case said on 15 April at the 41st annual AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy in Washington, D.C. Drawing on lessons from AOL’s first days when the web broke ground, Case offered his views on the future of science and technology policy and stressed the need for would-be Internet entrepreneurs to engage productively with government partners.

“The first wave was building the Internet. The second wave was building on top of the Internet. And the third wave is integrating the Internet in seamless and pervasive ways throughout our lives,” said Case, now chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC. Author of a new book, The Third Wave, Case offered the Gilbert S. Omenn Grand Challenges Address during the AAAS Forum.

The Three Waves


The three waves of the Internet. | The Third Wave by Steve Case

According to Case, in order for tomorrow’s innovators to succeed, there will need to be more dialogue between entrepreneurs and policymakers so as to bridge the gap between the world of Silicon Valley and Capitol Hill, and it’s going to require “the three Ps”— perseverance, partnership, and policy.

Case said that the “three Ps” were not as important in the second wave of the Internet’s development, from 2000 to 2015, when companies like Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Google were established nearly overnight. However, Case said that this was not the case for the first wave of the web, from 1985 to 1999, and the Internet would not have become part of life without partnerships and engagement between entrepreneurs and government.

“The government’s role in birthing the Internet, and then figuring out the right policies to unleash the Internet, and drive the adoption were critically important, and some of those lessons about that role of government are lost on some of the younger entrepreneurs and innovators,” Case said. A connection between innovators and policymakers will be more important within the next decade, he said, and it will require policy frameworks to ensure that potential risks are managed to reap societal benefits, particularly as it concerns the “Internet of Things” technologies and smart cities or even issues like smartphone encryption.

“There are a lot of entrepreneurs I run into in Silicon Valley and not exclusively Silicon Valley, who have no interest in policy, but disdain for government. They just think that government screws everything up and slows everything down, and it’s overly cumbersome, and obviously to some extent they’re right,” Case said.

AOL Co-Founder Steve Case with Account General Manager at CSRA Sharon Hays at the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy. | Juan David Romero

Case also said, however, that visionaries of the third wave of the Internet’s development will need to understand that web-based innovations related to health, transportation, energy, or food will, by their nature, require a government role prior to deployment. Innovators should engage, rather than shy away from policymaker interactions, he said.

“I love what Silicon Valley has done, but I think a mindset change is necessary to tackle some of these other issues,” Case said, noting that 75% of venture capitalists are clustered in California, New York, and Boston, and 90% of them are men, which does not reflect the distribution of great entrepreneurs with great ideas all across the country.

“The benefits on the upside exceed the risks on the downside, so getting that to work within the next decade will unleash innovation all across the country in sectors that desperately need it and create a much more inclusive and diverse mix of entrepreneurs than we saw on the second wave,” Case said.    

The Gilbert S. Omenn Grand Challenges Address was established in 2015 by past AAAS President Gil Omenn and his wife, Martha Darling. This year’s theme “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” focused on the role of scientists and engineers in addressing society’s grand challenges.