The Rise of Silicon Valley (Steve Case unwittingly promotes urban sprawl)

Steve Case, billionaire former chair of AOL, is undertaking a theoretically noble endeavor with his “Rise of the Rest” bus tour. He’s driving across America on a bus to prove to the world that great business ideas are not exclusively born in Silicon Valley or New York City. 

How’s that going? Well, he just finished up his visit to Minneapolis where he picked a winner that might be described as a “commercial-version-of-Nest.” 

Let me introduce you to this company and its founder by taking a quote from a March, 2014 news story: “Singh initially developed the system for the consumer market as chief technology officer for California startup Suntulit. That business planned to sell the product to homeowners through retailers. Lining up deals with major chains proved time consuming, so Singh shifted his focus to the commercial real estate market.”

Wait. Did I read that correctly? I thought you said this was a competition designed to prove that real talent can be found outside of Silicon Valley?

Oops. That’s right.

Minnesota’s “Rise of the Rest” winner is none other than Silicon Valley born company, Suntulit, which only recently moved from Silicon Valley to Minnesota and changed its name from Suntulit to 75f (in fact, the Suntulit Facebook page kindly points out that “75F carries on where Suntulit left off.”).  I’m not sure what compelled Suntulit to move from Silicon Valley to Minnesota but regardless of what it was, they can’t have been in Minnesota for too long since they were one of the finalists in California’s Cleantech Open competition as recently as November 2010.

What? So this “Minnesota startup” is actually an award-winning Silicon Valley-based venture that won a competition as far back in 2010?

You betcha.

Regardless, they’re Minnesotans now, dammit and they’ll prove it! How do they prove it? By winning the Minnesota Cup in September, 2013. The what? Glad you asked. The Minnesota Cup is described on its website as being a competition “for Minnesota’s entrepreneurs, inventors, and small business people.”

Gosh. I guess Steve Case isn’t the only one heaping loads of hometown praise on an award-winning company born, raised, and already proven in Silicon Valley.

Oh wait. I’m afraid there’s more. 75F is also a finalist in the “Midwestern Clean Energy Challenge” which entices competitors as follows “Are you a Midwestern entrepreneur, researcher or student with an innovative idea that can impact clean energy?”

Oops again.

I don’t begrudge 75F their success. They seem to be a hard-working smart company and will probably go far. The founder gives a great pitch and obviously does a good job of convincing others of the company’s merit. But good golly, it sure does make all the podunk locals look like suckers when the Silicon Valley folk can just come in and scoop up all of the hometown accolades.

And Steve Case is either being noble and naive, or he isn’t quite sticking to his purported mantra. But it seems he owes a bunch of Minnesotans a bit of an apology. Or better yet, a big sincere bunch of investment in the boatloads of excellent ideas he saw while he was there. Those gosh darn Minnesotans are nice enough that they’ll forgive him.

  • Us “podunk locals” in Minnesota welcome talented entrepreneurs like Singh (who has lived in Minnesota for the past 8 years) who recognize that there are big advantages to growing a business in the midwest. The fact that its predecessor company struggled in another region, and is now making progress in Minnesota, only serves to underscore this point.

    No apologies necessary – thanks to Case and Singh for demonstrating the rise of the rest!

  • I’m Deepinder, the ‘Singh’ from the story above. As another reader pointed out ( I better find out who – my life is obviously too public ) I have lived in MN for 8 years. I visit the valley often and have great memories of bike rides along the coast but I definitely prefer the lower key living in MN.

    I cofounded ( as CTO ) Suntulit with Suminder, who was the CEO, and lived in the Bay Area. Suntulit was registered in CA but the dev stuff was never in the Bay area, nor did we raise any funding from the Valley.

    When I started 75F, we did a complete ground up change in the product / market / base technology platform and even the coding language. Not a single line of code or piece of hardware is from Suntulit. It would be really hard to make a case that 75F is a Bay Area company that moved to MN, on a number of levels.

    Maybe it would behove the author to get the facts straight – perhaps by making an attempt to reach out to the founders, rather than conjure theories about our status.

    • I could understand how something like this would make you feel upset… I will certainly say hello some day and see what you guys are building…

      I just wish you would have been a bigger man and tried to put yourself in this author’s shoes to show some empathy… We have a hard time being taken seriously in Minnesota in the context of startups and VC… and frustrations are hard to process and react to appropriately (as the author is struggling with)… that doesn’t make him a bad person, he just has a problem that he’s having a hard time solving…

      I know it’s hard, but you could have dug deeper instead of sounding defensive.

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