Sunday, August 14, 2022

Some 8,000 Road Miles Later, Silicon Heartland Book Launches with Loads of Endorsements

After two years of research and some 3,000 miles logged in my Honda Element on a road tour through the Rust Belt, my new book, Silicon Heartland, is launching. 

Kevin Stevens, Editorial Director, Imagine Books
(distributed by Penguin Random House)

Change is sweeping across the American
heartland. For too long ignored as “flyover
country,” the once-mighty Midwest is
experiencing a quiet but compelling revolution
powered by savvy venture capital, high-tech
innovation, entrepreneurial boldness, and good
old American moxie. What has been known
as the Rust Belt is now developing the shine
of a tech belt. The former pinnacle of the US
economy is making a comeback, which bodes
well not only for the heartland but for our
economy and morale nationwide.
Rebecca A. Fannin explored this twenty-first century
transformation from the inside. And
she did it the old-fashioned way—by putting
hard miles on her Honda Element and visiting
women and men from Flint, Michigan, to
Huntington, West Virginia, who are planning,
financing, and building this latest version of
the American Dream. A heartlander herself,
Fannin brings readers on an investigative tour
that starts in her hometown of Lancaster, Ohio,
and takes in six states, dozens of cities, and
hundreds of enterprises.
Silicon Heartland tells the story of a comeback
journey—and also personal stories of some of
the remarkable people Rebecca met who are
restoring the region’s vibrancy and prosperity
with a social and economic turnaround that
is diverse, contemporary, and solidly realized.
What Rebecca discovered on the way—about
America, about her family, about herself—
is surprising and inspiring and makes her
book timely documentation about a reviving
economy and also a moving reminder of the
importance of family and heritage.

Thanks for the endorsements! 

“No place or company is immune from getting disrupted – and Silicon Valley is no different. In Rebecca’s new book, Silicon Heartland, she explores the tech innovation frontier emerging in states that were once centers of commerce but were left behind when they didn’t adapt to new technologies. Silicon Heartland underscores how my home state of West Virginia – and other Appalachian locations – are progressing by investing in entrepreneurship.”
 John Chambers, Founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures, and former Executive Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems

As an investor and venture capitalist who moved to Austin, Texas several years ago, I find Rebecca Fannin’s compassionate and rigorous analysis of entrepreneurship a must-read. She asks and answers so many of the right questions: how we got here, where we’re going, and what needs to happen to revitalize communities and democratize innovation. This will be an indispensable book for founders, investors, and change-makers.
 Jim Breyer, Founder & CEO, Breyer Capital

“In Silicon Heartland, Fannin details the technology transformation underway in our heartland — masterfully weaving together years of research and knowledge with personal stories from people across America. It’s a book that inspires hope for our future.”
 Ro Khanna, author of Dignity in a Digital Age

Silicon Heartland, Rebecca Fannin’s uplifting journey into America’s all-too-often overlooked Midwest – where she, herself, grew up – is a compelling counter-narrative to the depiction of the region as being in the grip of post-industrial decline. This is the untold story of the Rust Belt rising, amid a wave of optimism, innovation and old-fashioned grit.”
 MaĆ«lle Gavet, CEO of Techstars and author of Trampled by Unicorns

Silicon Heartland shines the light on exciting examples and best practices that are leveling the playing field of opportunity and unleashing new opportunity. This book is a must-read for anyone who believes that entrepreneurial success is only possible on the coasts. The Silicon Heartland welcomes you!
 Brad D. Smith, President Marshall University and former Chairman and CEO, Intuit

“From an author with America’s heartland in her blood and a keen observer of global innovation, this book is a tremendous resource to help communities across the country tap into their entrepreneurial roots and reinvent themselves.”
— Greg Becker, president and CEO of SVB and graduate of Indiana University

Silicon Heartland provides an almost perfect sequel to Ms. Fannin’s must-read Tech Titans of China. Now she brings the focus back to our nation’s shores, but rather than detail the assumed decay of American greatness, she instead finds hope. The green-shoots of a potentially innovative and prosperous future have been planted for generations to come. This book provides a much-needed boost of optimism at a time when it’s vitally needed.”
 Chris Fenton, author, Feeding the Dragoand Film Producer

In her book Silicon Heartland, journalist Rebecca Fannin journeys back to her home in the Midwest to explore how cities and states are working to reinvent local economies. Her unique perspective will help readers understand the entrepreneurial communities that are working to turn cities between the coasts into promising innovation hubs.
 Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and Revolution and author of The Rise of the Rest

“Finally…someone gets it. The Rustbelt of the Midwest is transitioning to the Tech Belt of the heartland and author/journalist Rebecca A. Fannin tells that story in an engaging and sometimes personal manner. She took time to explore this flyover country to discover an emerging new energy and entrepreneurial spirit that is replacing regional depression. She tells the story of Midwestern rebirth that everyone else has ignored and she does so with the perspective of an experienced journalist. Her writing is crisp and sharp, and her reporting is thorough and in-depth.”
— Tom Hodson, Director Emeritus of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and WOUB Public Media

Silicon Heartland tells stories that should be told. 
With the move to onshoring, perhaps real dollars will continue to flow - and even increase - across the belt(s). I hope so. Lots of know-how and talent there. Less reason to move elsewhere in this increasingly un-tethered world, and current societal and technological waves benefit from more open spaces and lower costs.”  
 James D. Robinson, Founder & General Partner, RRE Ventures 

“Few journalists I know have truly been ‘out there’ deeply connecting with their subject like Rebecca. Her family’s personal history in the Midwest allows her to truly hear what’s happening.”
 Brian Cohen, Chairman, Science Literacy Foundation/ Founding Partner, New York Venture Partners/ Chairman Emeritus, New York Angels

“Hop into author Rebecca Fannin’s vintage Honda as she cruises through “flyover country,” reporting on what was long considered the rusted remains of America’s industrial might. Except she finds something quite different:  Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurship built on traditional Midwestern values of honesty, hard work, and community.  Without glossing over the challenges, Ms. Fannin provides an insightful look into the rebirth of cities and a region that launched American leadership in the global economy.”
— Dan Schwartz, Publisher, Asian Venture Capital Journal (1993-2008) and author, The Future of Finance

“Silicon Heartland is a fascinating and inspiring read.  Only Rebecca Fannin, with her venture background, China experience, and heartland roots, could uncover the amazing tech revolution occurring in the middle of America.  Rebecca shines a light on how the next generation will transform the region by taking a page out of the Silicon Valley playbook.”
 David Kaufman, Director of Global Strategies, Nixon Peabody

“Silicon Heartland shows how scrappy innovators are remaking the US economy and breathing life back into Rust Belt cities and impoverished rural communities. Fannin does a fantastic job providing both the data and case studies on how a new wave of entrepreneurs and technology are transforming America’s overlooked and under-funded regions.”
 Steve Hoffman, Chairman and CEO, Founders Space

Saturday, April 23, 2022

"Mr. Metaverse" And His Web3 Bet Against Facebook


  • Yat Siu, executive chairman of Hong Kong-based metaverse start-up Animoca Brands, says that as new technology worlds are being built around the Web 3 idea, the biggest threat isn’t regulation but companies like Facebook and Tencent.
  • Animoca is valued at over $5 billion, turned profitable in 2021, has over $15 billion in digital asset and token reserves, and is raising another $150 million this month.
  • The college drop-out who was born and raised in Vienna as the only child of professional musicians discovered at an early age an affinity for computers, which led to a job at Atari, founding his internet service provider at the age of 20, and selling a previous start-up to IBM.
  • Read more at CNBC, by correspondent Rebecca Fannin 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Silicon Valley fallout from waging economic war against Russia

 Russian politicians and tech leaders started coming to Silicon Valley more than a decade ago to build high-tech bridges but since the Crimea annexation in 2014, venture capital deal-making within the U.S. involving Russia has been declining.

  • Still U.S.-based and global VC firms face issues with investments made over the past decade alongside Russian firms and individuals.
  • Russia has been angling to make its own Silicon Valley with the Skolkovo Technopark outside Moscow, but now-ended relationships with tech investors and universities including MIT were important.
  • Photo: Rebecca Fannin at Moscow's tech park Skolkovo in 2018 to speak at an innovation conference
  • See CNBC article on Russia by Rebecca Fannin

The 30-year-old female founder at the forefront of a billion-dollar bet on CRISPR gene editing

Nobel Prize winner Jennifer Doudna is the most well-known co-founder of CRISPR start-up Mammoth Biosciences, but Janice Chen, the sister of U.S. figure skating champion Nathan Chen, is also one of its four co-founders and the chief technology officer.

  • Mammoth has added $100 million in big pharma contracts and government grants since the pandemic began, quadrupled its employee count and is still hiring, and saw its valuation rise to $1 billion in a venture deal featuring Amazon and Apple’s Tim Cook.
  • Chen has her sights set on reaching a $100 billion valuation as an independent company.
  • See CNBC article on CRISPR startup by 
    Rebecca Fannin

Next to the last steel mill in town, a robotic farm grows backed by Pritzker billions



  • Currently less than 1% of fresh produce is grown through hydroponics systems versus open-field agriculture, but this segment is forecast by Mordor Intelligence to grow by nearly 11% yearly to about $600 million by 2025 and Walmart has invested $400 million in Plenty Unlimited.
  • Vertical farming start-up Fifth Season is backed by billionaire Nicholas Pritzker’s Tao Capital and planning to disrupt the $60 billion U.S. produce market through food partners include Sabra, Kroger, Shoprite and Giant Eagle.
  • “The tech multiplier doesn’t lift all boats but it is spreading in the heartland,” says Congressman Ro Khanna of Silicon Valley.
  • See CNBC article on Pittsburgh startup Fifth Season 
    by Rebecca Fannin

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Endless Frontiers Can Move the US of A Forward and Compete with China


Predictions that China could win the superpower tech race were once considered ludicrous. Now the U.S. is fighting this increasing threat by reinvigorating the U.S. innovation economy with a massive federal agenda to spur the growth of new technologies, startups, and regional innovation hubs. 

China has advanced swiftly in artificial intelligence, 5G communications, electric vehicles, robotics, and other futuristic technologies. Having dominated China’s markets while Facebook, LinkedIn and Google were blocked, Chinese companies also have invested heavily in Southeast Asia and Africa, while Alibaba, Tencent and other tech titans were penetrating Hollywood, Silicon Valley and the Rust Belt before regulatory crackdowns largely halted those deals.      

Anyone who has traveled to China knows or seen the televised Olympics sees the stark comparison with America’s decaying bridges, highways, rails, and airports. China is building for the coming decades.        

China’s swift catch-up to the U.S. in high-tech innovation and R&D is remarkable. China has surpassed the U.S. in patent filings globally, and is gaining on the  U.S. lead in research and development. China’s venture capital market has surged to become the world’s second-largest, and nearly surpassed the U.S. in 2018. China’s ByteDance, the maker of TikTok, is the world’s most valuable venture-backed unicorn, worth $140 billion. Meanwhile, America’s share of global VC spending has fallen to about half from more than 90 percent in the 1990s.

To rebuild and retain America’s technology leadership will take turbo-charging emerging startup ecosystems throughout the country, from the Heartland region as well as the dominant coastal cities. New tech hubs that have sprung up in the midlands such as in Columbus are a starting point in transitioning Middle America’s once-dominant economies from industries of the past to tomorrow’s growth engines. But more support is still needed for many former steel towns, auto cities and coal mining lands that are struggling to latch on to the new digital economy.

Legislation sweeping through Congress ─ the America Competes Act and the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act ─ rightly promises increased funding and resources that can filter into overlooked inland markets. This effort can revitalize coal mining regions of the Appalachians and the industrialized Great Lake states, and even create Zoom towns in remote places.

But federal spending can only go so far. To fully recover from the Rust Belt days, more venture capital investment is needed for the Heartland. Two-thirds of VC spending nationwide goes to startups in California, New York, and Massachusetts.  Only a fraction goes to the midland states.

Increased venture spending in mid-America can drive much-needed development in economic wastelands that still suffer from poverty, drug addiction, lack of opportunities, and hopelessness. This comprehensive approach to rebuild can help the U.S. counter China’s technology innovation gains and restore confidence and pride.    

Traditional jobs in factories are not coming back. What’s needed to boost the former industrialized Midwest is diversification from past industries that went overseas or were automated. This drive forward needs to be accompanied by retraining of blue collar workers for higher-skilled jobs, an increase in vocational education, and more mentors and role models to inspire tomorrow’s tech entrepreneurs. With the right resources, the former Rust Belt can emerge as a Tech Belt. Entire business sectors from insurance to healthcare to transportation can be impacted. 

Intel’s plans to invest $20 billion to build chip-making plants in central Ohio – alongside Google, Facebook, and Amazon data centers ─ sends a strong signal that America is building back. Other specialized tech-centric innovation zones in former Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland are gaining strength with technology startups. These innovation clusters have developed in the toughest, most unexpected places, out of necessity. In a Build Back Better challenge initiated by the Department of Commerce, 50 finalists made the cut, including advanced manufacturing hubs in Cleveland and Detroit, information technology in Pittsburgh, and digital health in Louisville.  

Now, increased funding and resources from both the public and private sector can further develop regional tech hubs in new MidAmerican frontiers. To commercialize innovations from this frontier, it will take entire communities, uniting universities, incubators, economic development organizations, and R&D labs. This effort will reshape the digital divide in America, leading to a Silicon Heartland in the center of the U.S. It will speed up the adoption of new technologies. It will spread throughout overlooked regions that missed the tech boom. It will fuel economic growth in still-struggling cities of the Heartland.

The beginnings of this revival are already here: biotech spin-outs from Cleveland Clinic, robotics and autonomous driving breakthroughs from Carnegie Mellon University, and advancements in 3D printing, additive manufacturing from the Youngstown Business Incubator, and security technology in Dayton from the Air Force Research Laboratory. See photo of author standing in front of last steel mill in the Pittsburgh metro

Developing innovation zones such as in Cincinnati are getting on the bandwagon too, fostering entrepreneurship, and attracting more millennials and Gen Z’ers who want to live and work there. These districts as tearing down or repurposing abandoned factories, dilapidated buildings and empty shopping malls. They can be turned into massive tech parks like I’ve seen in Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen.

It’s urgent that America acts now to maintain its global technology leadership. Building up innovation hubs in the Heartland should be an important part of this rebuild effort. An American prosperity requires that all pockets of America benefit. It’s time that “flyover country” becomes known as “fly in country.”

By Rebecca A. Fannin, author of Silicon Dragon (2008) and Tech Titans of China (2019)

Monday, January 24, 2022

Intel's Big Build-Out In My Home State of Ohio Spurs the Growth of a Silicon Heartland

In a game changer, Intel is investing $20 billion on a new chip manufacturing hub on 1,000 acres near Columbus, the first semiconductor fab in the Midwest, and is hiring 3,000 employees. 

The silicon chipmaker's bold investment will draw more high-tech employment to central Ohio and spur the development of a Silicon Valley in the Heartland. Already, Google, Facebook and Amazon operate  data centers here, in this New Albany rural suburb of Ohio's capital city. My hometown of Lancaster, just 30 miles southeast, has attracted Google too.  

These investments come as Silicon Valley continues to decentralize. With this move toward the interior of the U.S., the old images of Rust Belt and cow towns could fade fast.  

The emergence of America's Heartland as a tech center comes at a crucial time for the U.S. as it fights back China's rise, deals with supply chain shortages, and jobs lost to lower-cost centers in Asia and Mexico. 

The arrival of Intel to the Midwest signals another Silicon territory, like Silicon Beach, Silicon Alley and Silicon Dragon. Call this Silicon Heartland.

Over the next decade, Intel plans to spend as much as $100 billion in eight factories spanning 10,000 acres of farmland. The Silicon Valley-based giant also intends to partner with local universities to foster new talent. This build out will spur the growth of an already budding tech ecosystem in central Ohio.   

Heartland America has been eager to develop new jobs, and has looked to technology and startups as sources. Now budding tech centers are gaining momentum, feeding upon the region's strong universities and research centers, and digitization of traditional businesses in insurance, healthcare and manufacturing. 

A growing number of talented millennials have been drawn away from the coasts and into the center of the country. The attraction is increased job opportunities in more inland startups and emerging businesses. Other factors driving this trend are lower cost of living and the ability to work remotely.  

Columbus is in the forefront of Midwestern clusters that are forming far away from long dominant Silicon Valley. CBus, as it's known, is emerging as the biggest of the once-sleepy giants. The population has surged 15 percent to nearly 900,000 over the past decade, the largest increase of any major Midwestern city. 

The metro's tech cluster is fueled by the arrival of venture firm Drive Capital and its Silicon Valley style. Drive Capital, set up by two former Sequoia Capital partners from California, has invested in dozens of tech startups in 10 years, and is building businesses for the future from healthcare to insurance to robotics. Further sparks come from spinouts at Ohio State University, startup studios Rev1 Ventures and Converge Ventures, and inventions at world-leading research outfit Battelle Memorial Institute, creator of vehicle cruise control and the bar code.    

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine -- and other Midwestern states -- have been angling for a chunk of this new distributed Silicon Valley. The Buckeye state has allocated billions to develop urban innovation districts in Columbus as well as Cincinnati and Cleveland. The goal? Create thousands of jobs in high-tech, healthcare and smart manufacturing, and educate students in science and technology fields. Now, this Intel facility is touted as the single, largest investment in the state's history, and boosts Ohio's economy that suffered when the steel mills and auto factories left. 

The San Francisco Bay Area continues to be the epicenter of venture capital, attracting half of VC spending nationwide. But the sands are shifting. Investment in Silicon Valley startups recently declined to below 30 percent nationwide for the first time in 10 years. Meanwhile, venture deals in the Midwest have quadrupled over the past decade. 

Unicorn-valued startups, high-ticket acquisitions, and IPOs have popped up in Columbus as well as tech clusters in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Detroit. Each city leverages its strengths in technology to specialize. For instance, Pittsburgh is a hub for autonomous driving. Indianapolis is strong in software as a service. Detroit is into advanced manufacturing and electric vehicles.  

Over the past 50 years, Silicon Valley saw its orchards transformed into high-tech parks. Now, central Ohio is starting to see its fertile pastures changed to data-driven centers. It will take some time for the culture to change for more of a risk-taking nature that is common in the Valley.  As an early spotter of major tech innovation trends such as in China with Silicon Dragon, I'm convinced that a Silicon Heartland will show its power.