The tech revolution is no longer confined to Silicon Valley or the California statehouse.
Earlier this week, Steve Case announced that his Rise of the Rest seed fund, designed to invest in innovation in the Mid West and other areas traditionally overlooked by investors, had raised $150 million with commitments from tech executives including Jeff Bezos and Eric Schmidt. We are, as Peter Hirshberg recently put it on this show, at a cambrian moment in terms of the technology industry’s evolving role in American economic, social and political life.
Take Rhode Island, the little New England state which pioneered the American 19th century industrial revolution. Its 47 year-old Governor, Gina Raimondo, is a former VC at and Point Judith Capital whose pro-innovation policies have made her a rising star in the national Democratic party.
Rhode Island, Raimondo insists, with its cluster of high quality universities like Brown and Rhode Island School of Design, fits “perfectly” into Steve Case’s thesis about the opportunities outside Silicon Valley for smart entrepreneurs and investors. Raimondo, who describes the 1,2012 square mile Rhode Island as a “city state”, is particularly bullish on her state’s geography in the heart of the north eastern innovation seaboard. It actually takes less time to get by high speed train from Rhode Island’s capital Providence to Boston, she boasts, than it takes to go from San Francisco to Menlo Park.
Gina Raimondo – a Harvard and Yale Law school graduate who was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford – is also trying to reinvent Rhode Island as a hub of digital government. So, Raimondo says, she’s spent a “lot of time looking at Estonia”, particularly in conversation with the former Estonian CTO Taavi Kotka, about establishing what she calls a “digital backbone” in Rhode Island for government services. Estonia, she claims, represents the “gold standard” for digital innovation, particularly in the tiny Baltic republic’s championing of its I.D. card.
So we shouldn’t be surprised if Rhode Island, under the Raimondo’s tutelage, becomes the first US state to experiment with a I.D. scheme that provides its citizens with a digital operating system for the management of their healthcare, taxes and other essential affairs.
In fact, given Raimondo’s skepticism about the effectiveness of both Congress and the White House in Trump’s America, she thinks that political power increasingly resides at the local rather than federal level. She also believes that the increasingly central issue of the regulation of tech might need to come from states. There are a lot of “very real issues” relating to regulatory issues, particularly in AI, she insists.
Silicon Valley should take note. As Steve Case has predicted, the rise of the rest is going to be as much of a political as an economic phenomenon. And it’s going to originate in places like Rhode Island and be architected by a new generation of political innovators like Gina Raimondo.