Steve Case: Creating networks is the new competency

stevecaseSteve Case has a unique perspective on how innovation happens at startups and big companies. He co-founded America Online in 1985, helped introduce millions of people to the digital world, and took the company public. It became the best-performing stock of the 1990s. But after AOL merged with Time Warner in 2000, in what was the largest corporate merger in history, the entity just got too big: internal politics triumphed and the expected advantages of integration never materialized. In 2009, AOL was spun out again as its own company.

More recently, Case has been starting new ventures and investing in startups through Washington, DC-based Revolution Ventures, which this month raised a new $200 million investment fund. Its investments have included the car-sharing service Zipcar (acquired by Avis), deals site LivingSocial, and high-end vacation club Exclusive Resorts. In 2009, American Express bought a digital payments company Case backed, Revolution Money, for $300 million.

Innovation Leader spoke with Case at the EmTech Conference at MIT. Here are the highlights of Case’s take on the innovation challenges facing large companies today, and how forward-thinking firms are grappling with them; an audio excerpt of our conversation is below.

Case on what’s happening at big companies right now

“Most large companies recognize that they can’t just play defense. They can’t just be protecting the status quo. But as companies get larger, it is harder to innovate. Figuring out ways to create a network around your company is important. It’s why there are 85 companies that are part of the MIT Media Lab. More companies are creating venture capital funds — even 7-11. Companies are investing in venture firms, and supporting initiatives like Startup Weekend. They want to be connected to the startup community, see ideas a little bit earlier, see opportunities for partnership and acquisition. The world is changing rapidly. Most smart people don’t work for them. The traditional command-and-control, build-it-within model has broken down. Today requires a more of a networked approach, and more collaboration. Otherwise, you run the risk of being left behind.”

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