‘Fearless’ Jean Case explores Cincy’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

Author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Jean Case recently spent a day in Cincinnati exploring the startup ecosystem and meeting with leaders in business, government, and philanthropy.


Among the messages she brought was one on risk-taking.


“Great things don’t come from the comfort zone,” she says. “You’ve got to get a little uncomfortable. Cities like Cincinnati that are trying to build a bright future going forward, they’re going to have to take some risks, they’re going to have to be bold in ways that sometimes don’t feel very comfortable.”


Case's book, Be Fearless, was released in late January and, through stories, lays out the common traits she found in entrepreneurs, change makers, and other risk takers. In the 1980s, Case herself left a good job at GE, where she was a marketing manager and on a rising career trajectory.



“A startup down the road called and asked if I would join them to help start an online service,” she said in an interview. “I made the leap.” That “online service” became AOL, which at its peak claimed 30 million subscribers and was the first Internet company to go public.


Her and her husband, AOL founder Steve Case, started the Case Foundation in 1997 to invest in people and ideas that promise change.


While here, Case met at the Mercantile Library with city and county officials, as well as business leaders; met with officials of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation to talk about social investing; and held a roundtable with entrepreneurs at Union Hall, where she also conducted an evening “fireside chat.”


“I’m really impressed with the collaboration I see at work here, that we don’t see in a lot of the cities we go into,” she says. “I’m really impressed by the focus on social entrepreneurship.”


Her book grew out of work she and others did at the Case Foundation. “We looked at the work of entrepreneurs and change makers,” she says. “What we found was that wherever transformational change takes place, these five principles were present. We were able to debunk the myth that it takes some special quality.”


The five principles she outlines are: “Make a big bet;” “Be bold, take risks;” “Make failure matter;” “Reach beyond your bubble;” and “Let urgency conquer fear.”


“The real purpose of the book,” she says, “is to prove that it’s ordinary people who do extraordinary things.”

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist, Cincinnati native and father of three. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.
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