Eric Lefkofsky is one of Chicago’s most influential entrepreneurs and tech figures. He has founded and co-founded several companies, including Groupon as well as his latest project, Tempus, a cancer care data start-up whose aim is to establish an infrastructure to advance and personalize cancer treatment.
Lefkofsky is also an avid philanthropist. As of this month, he is among some of the world’s most influential business leaders who are investing in entrepreneurship outside of traditional tech hubs such as Silicon Valley and Seattle as means to mend America’s deep divisions. This is part of Rise of the Rest, an organization that was founded by AOL co-founder Steve Case and J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” announced the list of high-profile investors. They have contributed to a fund of $150 million that is to go toward startups in so-called “fly over states.”
Only a handful of U.S. cities and states have thus far been benefiting from the vast majority of venture capital funding. As such, both the wealth and opportunity that are created by the innovation economy are not distributed evenly across regions beyond the tech hubs. This, in turn, culminates in a bubble effect that is marked by the struggle of individuals living in prosperous regions to identify with those residing in areas or communities that have never recovered from the decline in manufacturing and vice versa.
In “Hillbilly Elegy,” Vance recounts that divide while at the same time discussing his family history in Kentucky and Ohio, reflecting more broadly on social decline. “There is no group of Americans more pessimistic than working-class whites,” is a thread that resonates throughout the entire account.
The Rise of the Rest enables startups outside of tech hubs to have access to capital and thereby removes those firms’ biggest obstacles. This consequently brings opportunities back to communities like Vance’s hometown. According to the Rise of the Rest website, the money will be geared toward companies that are innovating in “major industries like food, healthcare, transportation and agriculture – industries that have long established ties to regions between the coasts.”
By founding Rise of the Rest, the goal of Case and Vance is to “revolutionize” the U.S. economy. “We know the talent is evenly distributed but opportunity is not,” according to Case during a video in which he is announcing the fund. According to an account from the New York Times, the unlikely duo connected after Case read Vance’s chronicle of Rust Belt decline as a problem that needed to be addressed. The account also recounts the story of the duo forming the Rise of the Rest Tour that travels across the country and makes small investments in startups. The project is now gaining higher ground as it is backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt and several others.
However, the effort might face skepticism. This is a chance for Big Tech to gain publicity as it addresses the growing resentment from those left behind by the new economy. However, the Rise of the Rest investors are experienced in solving complex problems, as did Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans. He played a pivotal role in Detroit’s modernization and renewal.
The next tour of Rise of the Rest is set to kick off in the Spring of 2018. It plans to visit a total of five cities in a span of five days and make investments based on pitch competitions.
Lefkofsky and his wife are actively philanthropically involved. In 2006, they established the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, whose primary aim is to advance high-impact initiatives in education, fundamental human rights, medicine, art and culture that enhance lives in the communities that are served. The two are also members of The Giving Pledge, whereby they have have committed to contribute nearly half their wealth to philanthropic causes. Lefkofsky serves as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company that is based in Chicago. He is also on the board of trustees of the Lurie’s Children’s Hospital of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry and World Business Chicago.
Lefkofsky is originally from Southfield, Michigan. He and his wife Liz have been married for nearly two decades and have three children. He graduated from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor with high honors after which he attended the University of Michigan Law School where he earned his Juris Doctor degree.
In addition to Tempus and Groupon, Lefkofsky’s other entrepreneurial ventures include Lightbank, a venture fund that focuses its investments on disruptive technologies, Uptake Technologies, an analytics platform for the world’s largest industries, Mediaocean, an integrated media procurement technologies provider, Echo Global Logistics, a technology-enabled transportation and logistics outsourcing firm and InnerWorkings, whose focus is on providing managed print and promotional solutions globally.
Lefkofsky’s academic involvements include previous teaching positions at the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University as well as at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. He also authored the book Accelerated Disruption: Understanding the True Speed of Innovation.
Tempus has spent the past two years establishing a series of data pipelines to collect, cleanse and analyze data at scale. With that, it hopes to provide proprietary software applications that would enable clinical decision support and cutting edge academic research. The company enables physicians to deliver personalized cancer care for patients by offering an interactive and analytical machine learning platform. It provides DNA/RNA genomic sequencing services together with analyses of molecular and therapeutic data. The company’s goal is for each patient to benefit from the treatment of others who came before by providing physicians with tools that learn as Tempus gathers more data.