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Groupon founder says Chicago now growing entrepreneurs

Groupfounder CEO Andrew Masdelivers Key Note Speech Chicago InnovatiAwards Harris Theater October 22 2012. | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

Groupon founder and CEO Andrew Mason delivers the Key Note Speech at the Chicago Innovation Awards, at the Harris Theater, October 22, 2012. | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 24, 2012 6:13AM

Groupon Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mason shared the “bittersweet” emotion of seeing some engineers leave the daily deals company, but applauded the fact it shows Chicago now develops and sends entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley to start their own companies.

Mason addressed an audience of 1,500 at the 11th annual Chicago Innovation Awards celebration at the Harris Theater Monday night.

“Groupon could never have existed if not for Chicago entrepreneurs,” Mason said, citing his own unnamed mentors, backers and “people who figured out how to unlock growth.”

Mason also gave credit to the Chicago Innovation Awards for putting Groupon on the map by choosing the company as a 2009 award recipient.

Groupon had 100 employees at the time in total, and now employs 3,000 in Chicago alone, he said.

Mason also subtly mocked the awards’ harkening back to the city’s old-time innovations, saying, “I can’t imagine a much better home for a company like Groupon than Chicago — site of the nation’s first blood bank and world’s largest water-filtration plant.”

The bottom line is recognizing innovative companies to “remind ourselves that eventually, it all pays off,” he said.

Groupon enjoyed phenomenal growth, but has suffered employee turnover and criticism on Wall Street since it went public last November. The company’s stock fell 2.35 percent on Monday, or 11 cents, to $4.58 a share — 77 percent below its value when its debut.

Monday’s award recipients ranged from education boosters to loyalty-card innovators to operators of food pantries inside elementary schools.

People’s Choice Award, chosen by online vote, was New Futuro, a bilingual online education community that helps Latinos prepare for and obtain financial aid so they can go to college.

The 2012 “Up and Comer” award winners included Belly, a single-tap loyalty card provider that has received more than $1 million in seed capital from Lightbank, the Groupon founders’ investment vehicle.

Other Up and Comer winners were tech center 1871; surgical tool safety innovator Briteseed; kids’ financial literacy site MoneyThink; new-product adviser Food Genius; cleanteach nanomaterials designer NuMat Technologies; shopper-savings crowd-sourcing site MobCart; learning and teaching site MentorMob, and the Northwestern Global Health Foundation, which has launched an HIV test for infants that returns results in less than an hour.

The Innovation Awards recognized politicians, too, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel getting the Visionary award and Gov. Pat Quinn the Distinguished Innovator award. Emanuel said his role of creating an environment for the innovative companies to create jobs has meant improving infrastructure, creating science- and tech-focused schools and reducing red tape.

Quinn cited his efforts to provide Gigabit-speed Internet access in partnership with the University of Chicago and providing funding to promote research and technological advancements.

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