Without Brad Keywell, Chicago might not have one of its breakout tech stories: Groupon. Keywell also co-founded Uptake, venture fund Lightbank and is the driving force behind Chicago Ideas.
“We in the tech world in Chicago, in the midst of our daily battles of disruption and growth, also operate as a community,” Keywell told Blue Sky. “There are other tech geographies out there, but they lack community. That’s why we’re thriving.”
Uptake, the Chicago-based provider of predictive analytics for industry, announced in February 2017 that it had raised a new $40 million in funding. The deal valued the company at $2 billion, a person with knowledge of the terms said. The company quietly launched in 2014 with manufacturing equipment giant Caterpillar taking an early minority stake in the company, Keywell, its CEO, said at the time.
In October 2015, Uptake raised $45 million at a reported valuation of more than $1 billion, putting it in rare category of “unicorn” startups.
Uptake started out serving customers in the construction industry and has since expanded into mining, rail, aviation, retail and energy. The company collects massive amounts of data, which it tracks and analyzes to manage equipment maintenance and prevent outages, it said.
In November 2017, Groupon announced several changes to its board, including the departure of Keywell.
“I’m proud of where Groupon is headed today,” he said in a statement. “The business is in good hands with its existing board and leadership under the helm of Eric Lefkofsky as chairman and Rich Williams as CEO. Uptake is my primary focus as we continue on our exciting growth trajectory and capitalize on the opportunities that lie ahead.”
Keywell co-founded Lightbank, which invests in disruptive technology enterprises, with long-time business partner Lefkofsky in 2010. That same year, Keywell founded Chicago Ideas Week, now called Chicago Ideas, where thinkers and innovators give public talks and presentations.
He also co-founded investment firm Mediaocean and Echo Global Logistics, a technology-based transportation management firm.
Keywell is the chairman of the Future Founders Foundation, which runs programs designed to teach and inspire high school students to become entrepreneurs. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, where he teaches a course on entrepreneurship and building technology-based businesses, the chairman of the Illinois Innovation Council and served on the Mayor’s Committee on Technology Infrastructure.
He received his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School and his bachelor’s from the University of Michigan. Fellow alum and billionaire investor Sam Zell is a mentor and former boss.