In 2013, venture capitalist Chris Olsen, a former partner at Sequoia Capital, left Silicon Valley to move to Ohio, where he’d just started Drive Capital. Even his movers thought he was nuts for leaving California for Ohio.
“They were like, ‘Oh, sorry, man,’” he says.
Just a year or two earlier, Olsen would have agreed with them.
When I was at Sequoia, he says, “We passed on a company that was in Petaluma because that was too far from Silicon Valley.” (Petaluma is about 40 miles north of San Francisco.)
Then, in 2011, one of his fellow Sequoia partners, Mark Kvamme, at the behest of Ohio Governor John Kasich, took the helm of JobsOhio, an organization created by the state of Ohio to privatize that state’s economic development efforts.
“Sequoia was looking at opening an office in Turkey,” Olsen says. “I told [Kvamme] about that, and he said, ‘Wait, we passed on Petaluma because it was too far.’ I said ‘Yeah, but this is fun.’ That’s when he said ‘What about Ohio?’”
Olsen told this story last week at a one-day summit called “Inclusion in Tech,” sponsored by the Atlantic. Generally, the summit addressed diversity, sexism, and equity in Silicon Valley. Olsen was there to make a case for geographic inclusion, too.
He admits that his reaction to the idea of opening an office in Ohio was initially extremely negative.
“I thought, Rust Belt, yeah, sure, and went to look at the data, figuring I would prove this was a terrible idea. I found instead that it was a great idea,” he says. There were plenty of potential entrepreneurs out there, he concluded, along with universities and—one thing Silicon Valley doesn’t have—affordable housing.
Sequoia hadn’t opened an office in the Midwest (though it has funded companies there), and Olsen kept thinking that someone should do it. Finally, fearing that someone would soon—and it wouldn’t be him—he left Sequoia. Meanwhile, Kvamme left JobsOhio; the organization had had some successes in its two years, but was also facing legal challenges.
Read the full article on IEEE Spectrum here.