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A Student’s Perspective on the “Third Wave”

By Gaelle Pierre-Louis, Contributor to the Beeck Center Blog

Over two hundred members of the Georgetown community braved the rain last Tuesday, December 6, to attend an uplifting and important discussion with one of America’s most successful entrepreneurs, Steve Case, on the future of the Internet held at Fisher Colloquium.

The former CEO and Co-founder of America Online (AOL) and current CEO of Revolution LLC, Steve Case is the author of The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future. He shared his knowledge and experience in a fireside chat moderated by Sonal Shah, Executive Director of Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation.

During his senior year at Williams College, Steve Case read Alvin Toffler’s book, The Third Wave, which predicted the technological revolution where individuals would use computers to engage in a shared community through the Internet. Now, Case, who helped spearhead that revolution in his time at AOL, is predicting the third wave of the “Internet of Everything” and sharing his insights on how to succeed in a time of rapidly changing technology.

In his “part memoir, part manifesto, and part playbook for the future,” Case takes readers behind the scenes to some of the fascinating business decisions he had to make during the first wave of the Internet, while forecasting how the third wave of the Internet will transform our lives. During the talk, Steve Case explained how the third wave will be run by three P’s: Partnerships, Policy, and Perseverance. The second wave of the Internet (roughly spanning the last 15 years) did not need those three P’s to achieve overnight success, rather it relied on people, products and platforms to achieve success. But today’s startup entrepreneurs, Case cautions, will need to look back at the first wave for lessons on how to innovate and succeed at scale.

Case started the conversation with some fun facts about the Internet during the first wave. When he co-founded AOL, less than 3% of individuals were online and those who were online were actively interacting for less than 10 hours a week. Before the Telecommunications Act that gave Internet access to all, only intelligence agencies such as the CIA and educational universities had access to the Internet for a fee of $10 an hour.

According to Case, “250 years ago, America was a startup.” Thus, the entrepreneurial spirit that founded America must not begin to wane. We have to continue to re-imagine and re-invent as a guidebook for the third wave. When asked what students should be thinking about now in order to enter that phase, Case encouraged students to pursue their passion, “Everyone is passionate about different things; don’t fake it.” He also encouraged students to prepare for a journey that will take time: “Government and policy will be a bummer and slow people down, but the next wave of entrepreneurs need to embrace it.”

One of the highlights of the third wave is that the growth of global entrepreneurship can be made easier to gain through crowdsourcing and funding. Now, investors are starting to broaden their horizons, instead of looking to usual tech hubs like New York City and Silicon Valley for the next wave of entrepreneurs. Given the “Rise of the Rest,” one does not have to move to NYC or Silicon Valley to be disruptive. Startups are the major job creators, and therefore they need to be supported by everybody everywhere. Through impact investing that focuses on both profit and purpose, investors can help fuel the next generation of entrepreneurs.

This presentation struck a chord with me as a current senior at Georgetown University. Although my coursework has been in international affairs, social entrepreneurship found me my freshman year through the Compass Fellowship (now Social Impact 360) and through the Beeck Center. I am proud of the communities that support entrepreneurship here at Georgetown and the work that the university is doing to better prepare students for the third wave and to do the things machines cannot do — creativity, pattern recognition, asking questions that are outside of the box.

It is an exciting time to be alive. Courtesy of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, the Baker Center, Startup Hoyas, the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative, and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative, I and 200 Hoyas not only got to hear Mr. Case speak but also received a complimentary copy of his book. Get yours! It is worth the read. 


The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University or any employee thereof.

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