AOL co-founder to speak at Lever Innovation Summit

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NORTH ADAMS — Steve Case, co-founder of America Online, will be the keynote speaker at the inaugural Innovation Summit this fall hosted by small-business incubator Lever.

Case, a Williams College graduate whose company helped bring the internet into mainstream America in the early 1990s, will speak on the first day of the event, which will be held of the Oct. 3 and 4 at both Williams College and the Williams Inn.

The summit also will be held in conjunction with the finals of the business incubator's 2019 "intrapreneur" challenge, which will provide $25,000 in seed money and business assistance to the winner. The incubator has supported several small, high-tech Berkshire startups in recent years.

The final pitches from the contest finalists, and the selection of the winner, will also take place on Oct. 3.

The term "intrapreneur" is believed to have been coined in the 1980s by Apple founder Steve Jobs to describe entrepreneurs who create innovative products while employed by larger companies, according to Lever Executive Director Jeffrey Thomas.

"We've run entrepreneurial challenges for years," said Thomas, referring to four similar challenges that Lever has held since 2018. "It's a great model. It's used all over the country. But we are not aware of anyone who has tried to do anything like this before."

Case, who graduated from Williams in 1980, is currently the chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm that partners with forward- looking entrepreneurs to build significant "built-to-last" businesses, as described by his firm.

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Five years ago, Case and Revolution launched "Rise of the Rest" a platform designed to bring attention to entrepreneurs that are starting and scaling businesses in areas outside of well-known innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, New York City and Boston.

"He's traveling around the country literally in a bus doing different challenge events to really support entrepreneurship," Thomas said. "He's a great fit. Essentially, he will be before the choir (at the summit) and preaching to the choir."

Lever coordinated with Williams College to bring Case to the event.

"The main reason he's coming is the fact that Lever is an example (of what he's doing now)," Thomas said.

Founded in 2014, Lever has supported more than 150 entrepreneurs, helped regional startups raise more than $6 million in funding, hosted or placed more than 70 college students in paid internships, and led more than 100 meetups on topics like software development, women in business. digital media and coding for youngsters.

The Innovation Summit is being held to engage entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and students with a program that emphasizes innovation as an engine of economic growth, according to a news release.

"We want to highlight and celebrate the culture of innovations in Berkshire County," Thomas said. "We want people to know Berkshire County isn't just a great place to visit for scenery, beauty, culture and education, it's also a great place for innovators."

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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