Meet the investor who calls herself a ‘human social network’ and manages a $150 million fund building startup hubs outside of Silicon Valley

Revolution's Anna Mason.

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Revolution’s Anna Mason.
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Courtesy of Revolution

As of this writing, Anna Mason is preparing to go on the eighth “Rise of the Rest” bus tour, which will take her and the rest of the team on a four-day trip through Florida and, after a quick flight, to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The tour is the signature event for AOL founder Steve Case’s initiative of the same name, run through his Washington, DC-based venture capital firm, Revolution. Since joining the team in 2016, Mason has expanded the scope of the tours and become a partner for the $150 million Rise of the Rest Seed Fund. It’s dedicated to developing startup economies in US cities that are outside of Silicon Valley, New York, or Boston, where 75% of all US venture capital goes.

For her work in taking Case’s vision to the next level, we’ve named her one of Business Insider’s 100 People Transforming Business.

Mason personally meets with 400 to 500 people in every city within the initiative’s network, and vets about just as many companies. “I sometimes refer to myself as the human social network,” she said.

Read more: AOL cofounder Steve Case is betting $150 million that the future of startups isn’t in Silicon Valley or New York, but the money isn’t what’s making his prediction come true

After the next tour concludes, there will be 43 cities (or regions) in the Rise of the Rest network, and Mason will continue conversations throughout them, long after the tour bus leaves.

After the upcoming tour, the map will also include Orlando,

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After the upcoming tour, the map will also include Orlando, “the Space Coast,” Tampa Bay, Miami, and Puerto Rico (centered on San Juan).
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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

When Mason and her team go into a new city, she uses three questions to guide her: How is what I’m seeing innovative? Why are the opportunities here tied specifically to the city? How are the people special?

If she’s meeting promising entrepreneurs, she then needs to determine if the city could maintain a full startup ecosystem. She looks for areas to be both physically and digitally well-connected, to show that they would benefit from the spectacle of the day tour and accompanying pitch contest, and for proof that successful startups drive more investment and regional growth.

Americans have become increasingly skeptical of Silicon Valley companies interfering with their lives and communities, and Mason said she’s aware of that. It’s why, she explained, she spends so much time in Rise of the Rest cities getting to know local founders, politicians, and power brokers. She wants her team to come in as allies, not outsiders who have all the answers.

“There’s something really powerful about meeting people where they are,” she said.