When Mayor Daley took one of his final bows in front of thousands of local business and civic leaders Feb. 15 t a dinner hosted by the Economic Club, no company or city institution received more praise than Groupon.
Chicago’s startup sensation, which ironically found its footing in 2009 around the same time the city lost out on the 2016 Olympics, has had some help from City Hall while in pursuit of its gold medal valuation.
“Nobody ever heard of Groupon five years ago,” the Mayor said, while discussing his philosophy of new business generation. “How can you imagine something that hasn’t happened?”
While it took a graduate school dropout entrepreneur (Andrew Mason) and two serial venture capital investors (Eric Lefkofsky and Brad Keywell) to dream up Groupon, the company’s growth was arguably accelerated by investments made in the city’s startup infrastructure.
Over the last decade, more than $28 million in tax credits have been applied to the Old Montgomery Ward’s development at 600 W. Chicago that houses Groupon, publicly traded companies InnerWorkings and Echo Global Logistics (which also have Lefkofsky and Keywell DNA), and numerous other startups and early-stage investment outfits. The Mayor also noted the role World Business Chicago had in helping Groupon obtain tax credits from the state to fuel its already ridiculous rate of expansion.
“Aspiring entrepreneurs can go anywhere,” he said. “We need to do everything to bring them here.”
It will be up to mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel — in concert with the local business community — to build on this momentum. An upcoming Economic Club panel that will explain “Why Chicago’s Tech Startups Will Rule the Next Decade” is a good start. That meeting will include presentations by venture capitalist and philanthropist J.B. Pritzker, SAVO Group co-founder John Aiello, Fieldglass co-founder and CEO Jai Shekhawat, BrightTag CTO Eric Lunt (who previously was a co-founder of FeedBurner), and Flashpoint Academy CEO and serial startup entrepreneur Howard Tullman.
Online natural goods store Abe’s Market raises $3.4 million
Accel Partners, the elite Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm behind Facebook Groupon and dozens more iconic technology companies, earlier this month led a $3.4 Series A investment round in local online retailer Abe’s Market.
With operations in Buffalo Grove, Abe’s Market is a virtual Farmer’s Market that sells items ranging from Gluten free snacks, to organic body rub to yoga supplies. The company’s founders - Jon Polin and Richard Demb - have previous experience starting businesses in the software and natural foods industries.