Eric Lefkofsky’s Ventures: How the Chicago-Based Entrepreneur Nurtures the City’s Business Ecosystem

Eric Lefkofsky

UPDATED 12/11/2018–

Tempus founder and CEO Eric Lefkofsky spoke with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Max Chafkin at Bloomberg’s The Year Ahead summit that took place at the end of November in New York. The two touched upon several topics, ranging from Lefkofsky’s reasons behind starting his latest venture to his view of how big data analytics will affect the healthcare industry as a whole.


Lefkofsky has spent the last 20 years bringing technology to industries such as e-commerce, transportation and logistics and media. In 2015, after realizing how little data had permeated health care, he founded Tempus. Three years later, Tempus is ushering in precision medicine via technology and its database of clinical and molecular information.


Tempus conducts its sequencing in accordance with CLIA/CLAP guidelines that govern establishments who sequence patients undergoing treatment. Tempus conducts its sequencing in great depth. “Think of it as a magnifying glass. Our sequencing depth of coverage is 500–100x, depending on the panels we run, while the depth of coverage of the other institutions is anywhere from 25–75x,” says Lefkofsky. Tempus then combines the sequencing data with cancer patients’ clinical information and, with the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, enables physicians to make real-time, data-driven decisions regarding which drugs might provide the best results.


With Tempus, Lefkofsky takes a holistic approach as it looks at the challenges facing the health care industry. According to him, prior to Tempus, there was not an infrastructure in place that could generate and make sense of data at scale. Further, the data that was being collected, was often molecular data, which meant that researchers and clinicians weren’t able to effectively learn from patients who came before. His believes that the solution to the problem is based on a combination of phenotypic, morphologic, and molecular data – or a merger between text images and molecules. According to him, only a combinatorial approach can offer an accurate view of what is going on with the patients. And, while there are powerful imaging companies that enable advanced processing of pathology slides, they lack the context of what happens to the patients. The problem can only be solved when these imaging efforts are processed along with sequencing or structuring of data under one roof, and that is what Tempus is aiming to do.


Tempus has grown rapidly and is now the second largest clinical sequencer of cancer patients in the U.S. The company collaborates with 250 hospital systems, 75% of the Nation’s NCI cancer centers, and several esteemed academic institutions. Approximately 25% of all sequenced cancer patients come through Tempus. The company has expanded into areas other than cancer, such as diabetes and depression. It plans to expand its repertoire by taking on cardiovascular diseases next year.


Additionally, he presumes that all of these data efforts, though costly in the beginning, will reduce the cost of healthcare overall, as it will improve and personalize therapies. All of this will culminate in a material prolonging of life. “We should be able to use technology to keep people alive and help them live better lives,” he says.


Last year was a great year for Chicago exits and investments. In fact, the city is positioned among the top cities in the nation for high startup exit valuations thanks to high-value exits over the past few years. These include GrubHub, Coyote Logistics, Orbitz, Naurex, Vivid Seats, Gogo, ExteNet, Cleversafe, Fieldgrass, and Trustwave. What is also strengthening the Midwest ecosystem is that most of Chicago’s top entrepreneurs are in the market with new ventures. Add to that the fact that all those ventures have investor and public traction, and it is not difficult to see what contributed to Chicago’s healthy and maturing ecosystem.


PitchBook reported that Chicago remains the nation’s leader in investor returns in the United States. Out of 17 metropolitan cities, Chicago had the highest multiple on invested capital (MOIC).


Among those who are adding to the city’s rich diversification of experience and ideas that promise to continue breeding success over the long term is entrepreneur Eric Lefkofsky.


Lefkofsky obtained his law degree from the University of Michigan Law school in 1993, and since that time he has been a part of a number of several business ventures. His most recent company, Tempus is supporting physicians efforts to deliver personalized medicine. It is revolutionizing cancer care by combining big data analytics with operating systems and delivering that to cancer doctors. It has been voted as one of Chicago’s top ten health tech companies. The company has raised a total of $210 million with a valuation of around $1.1 billion and is Chicago’s newest “unicorn” company.


In 2001, Lefkofsky co-founded InnerWorkings, where remained on the board of directors until 2012. The company focuses on providing managed print and promotional solutions globally. According to their website, InnerWorkings assists Fortune 500 companies and large non-profits to better connect with customers and enhance marketing return on investment.


In 2005, Lefkofsky co-created Echo Global Logistics, a technology-enabled transportation and logistics outsourcing firm. It serves its clients’ shipping and freight management needs via its web-based technology platform that gathers and examines data from a total of 24,000 transportation providers. It has 17 different locations nationwide and provides services to tens of thousands of clients on a yearly basis. It went public on the NASDAQ in 2006 under the symbol ECHO.


In 2006, Lefkofsky co-founded MediaBank. MediaBank later merged with Donovan Data Systems to become Mediaocean, which is an integrated media procurement technologies provider. Mediaocean currently serves over 80,000 advertising professionals across the United States.


Lefkofsky then began a venture that he probably became most known for. Initially called in 2007 for which Lefkofsky provided $1 million in funding, the venture was renamed Groupon in 2008. The following year it raised $30 million from outside investors. In 2010, Groupon had a valuation of $1.35 billion and was reported as the fastest growing company in history by Forbes magazine. Groupon is a worldwide e-commerce marketplace that links subscribers with local merchants by offering activities, travel, goods and services across several countries.


In 2010 Lefkofsky founded Lightbank, a venture capital firm that focuses its investments on disruptive technologies. The company takes a unique approach to venture capital by investing beyond money through seed, Series A, and even later stage investments. It takes a hands-on role in helping the company rise quickly. Lightbank has invested in more than 70 companies in Chicago, the Midwest and throughout the United States. Since its founding, Lightbank has raised $302 million and created over $2.8 billion in returns.


In addition to being an entrepreneur, Lefkofsky is a philanthropist. In terms of his civic engagements, he is the Trustee of the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Science and Industry and World Business Chicago. He also serves as the Board of Trustees’ Chairman of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. He and his wife Liz co-chair the Lefkofsky Family Foundation that supports high-impact initiatives that improve lives in the communities served. Since 2013, the two have also been part of the Giving Pledge, whose members commit to donating half their wealth to philanthropic causes.

Lefkofsky currently holds an adjunct professorship at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business. He also authored Accelerated Disruption: Understanding the True Speed of Innovation.


For more information on Eric Lefkofsky, please visit, LinkedIn: ericlefkofsky, Twitter: @lefkofsky or Facebook: @eplefkofsky

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