Chicago-based Eric Lefkofsky is an entrepreneur and avid philanthropist. He has launched several enterprises, all of which use data analytics to generate actionable insights. These include Lightbank, a venture fund that focuses its investments on disruptive technologies, Groupon, a global e-commerce marketplace, 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. He is also a founding investor in Uptake Technologies, an analytics platform for the world’s largest industries.
Lefkofsky’s latest venture is Tempus, a cancer data analytics platform that is personalizing the approach to cancer treatment. The enterprise, voted as one of Chicago’s top ten health techs, has already earned unicorn status in funding, and it has partnered with many of the nations’ top cancer care centers as means to organize cancer patients’ treatment data and make it more accessible for physicians so that they can make more informed treatment choices.
Lefkofsky’s philanthropic ventures include being the Trustee of the Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago as well as 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 is also board member of World Business Chicago, where he is co-chairman of its technology council. In 2006, he and his wife Liz founded the Lefkofsky Family Foundation (LFF), a private charitable foundation that has supported more than 50 organizations to date, and since 2013, the two have been members of the Giving Pledge.
Eric and his wife Liz have a deep rooted urge to give and improve the lives of others. Their ultimate goal is to have the greatest impact possible on the areas the foundation focuses on, namely education, human rights, medical research and the arts.
While their primary focus is on the communities within their hometown of Chicago, the LFF supports numerous other initiatives outside of the city. In order to achieve its mission, the LFF aims to enable access to quality education while particularly focusing on the middle grades; to enhance fundamental human rights for women, girls and underserved communities; to propel innovative medical research and to expand cultural initiatives.
The LFF has a strong commitment to innovative and cutting edge medical research, with a special focus on funding research to eradicate debilitating diseases in order to improve the quality of human life. In his blog, Lefkofsky comments on his commitment to advancing the medical field, “About a dozen years ago, my wife and I set up a family foundation. Generally, we were focused on supporting four causes that we felt needed more attention: education, human rights, civic causes and medical discoveries. These days, I have become 100% focused on the last and I can’t seem to think about anything else.”
This is also closely connected to his latest venture, Tempus Labs where he is working to bring technology into healthcare as means to improve therapy and advance life expectancy of those afflicted.
In his blog, Lefkofsky also writes that the nation could be spending its money a bit better, and he has a few suggestions as to how that could be done. He writes that “We spend ~$3 trillion a year on health care in this country, and by almost all accounts (independent government studies, large Payor analyses, etc.) roughly one-third is wasted. That means we are spending roughly a trillion dollars a year that we don’t need to be spending.” According to him, focusing on technology is one way to better spend the money, and he writes that we “are standing at the gateway of a new era of technology and medicine, one that is going to completely upend how we treat patients and manage disease.” He also believes that “by bringing big data (along with machine learning and artificial intelligence) to healthcare, we can reduce mortalities by well over 50% in the next 25 years and remove a significant portion of that trillion-dollar waste.”
The Lefkofsky Family Foundation has partnered with the American Brain Tumor Association that was founded by Liz’s mother, Susan Kramer, as the first national nonprofit organization dedicated solely to brain tumors; the Daman Runyon Cancer Research Foundation that supports early career cancer researchers on their path to becoming leading researchers; the Duke Medicine’s Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center, though which the foundation supports research into pancreatic, stomach and other malignant cancers; the Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, the world’s leader in pancreatic cancer treatment that is currently developing a pancreatic cancer vaccine with the support of the LFF; the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago whose Lefkofsky Pediatric Intensive Care Unit that cares for as many as 1,600 patients each year; the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Northwestern University’s Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Center where the Liz and Eric Lefkofsky Innovation Research Awards help support promising investigators in cancer research; the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, which is the nation’s top hospital and research center in physical medicine and rehabilitation; the Stanford School of Medicine, where the LFF supports the Oncology Division in immunotherapy research; the University of Michigan Health System, whereby the foundation offers opportunities to students with unique and particularly distinctive research ideas through the Lefkofsky Scholar Initiative; and Weill Cornell Medicine that provides a multidisciplinary treatment paradigm. The New York City-based Center does not just focus on the disease itself but takes into account the whole person. As such, it offers support for fatigue, anxiety, hormonal symptoms, bone health and other secondary issues.
The LFF regards education to be a basic human right, a view that pushes them to seek out ways to help make excellent education accessible for all children. The larger picture for the LFF is to support organizations that support middle school students through a successful transition into high school and beyond. Eric has also donated to his alma mater, the University of Michigan, as well as the two Chicago-area universities Northwestern and DePaul. Several other educational initiative the LFF supports include ‘High School Bound’, a website that helps students choose the high school they would like to attend by providing access to comprehensive and accurate information on all Chicago-area high schools and ‘Success Bound’, which is a partnership between the LFF, the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, Academy for Urban School Leadership and Chicago Public Schools that offers school counselors the tools by which they will make schoolwide improvements with the aim to increase the likelihood of students’ success in education and in life. The LFF also supports ‘After School Matters’, an initiative that offers Chicago high schoolers high quality, out-of-school time opportunities to both explore and develop their talents while gaining critical skills for work, college and beyond. The foundation also provides support to ‘Teach For America Chicago’ (TFA) that gathers leaders who make sure that all students have access to an excellent education. TFA has more than 1,000 teachers and 210 principals and assistants that reach 125,000 students in Chicago Public Schools daily
In addition to education, the LFF is committed to safeguarding human rights. The foundation supports the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois whose focus is on areas of racial justice, religious liberty, freedom of expression, the rights of children and people with disabilities, criminal justice reform, fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender individuals and reproductive justice. The LFF also supports the Center for American Progress that aims to enhance the lives of Americans through public discourse on several public issues, policy development, communications and outreach. The foundation also supports organizations such as CommunityHealth, the nation’s largest volunteer-based free medical facility as well as Everytown for Gun Safety, a movement to end gun violence and build safer. The LFF also supports the Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization that focuses on research and advocacy on human rights, as well as the Medical Mission for Children that offers children worldwide life-changing corrective surgeries. The foundation also assists organizations such as Peer Health Exchange that offers resources for healthy decision making, Planned Parenthood of Illinois, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Urban Warriors, a YMCA of Metro Chicago’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention initiative.
Under the human rights umbrella, the LFF particularly directs its support towards advancing the rights of women, including women in technology. As such, it has partnered with Google and the Motorola Mobility foundation as well as 1871, Chicago’s tech incubator, to create 1871 FEMTech in 2013 in hopes of encouraging and enabling more female tech entrepreneurs to break into the field. The three organizations have supported FEMTech’s launch with the goal to help start ten to 15 women-owned start-ups per year. This is particularly powerful as less than 13% of tech company engineers are women and a mere 5% of tech start-ups are female-owned. While this was part of Google’s initiative to increase the number of women in technology and part of Motorola Mobility’s extension of their other philanthropic work that has revolved around empowering communities with technology, it was Eric and Liz’s continued commitment to to their hometown of Chicago.
The Lefkofskys believe that every city or community can only truly thrive with a strong cultural foundation. As such, the LFF is also strongly committed supporting the arts. The largest contribution to date was granted to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where Eric serves as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. The Steppenwolf Theatre Company is the nation’s premier ensemble theater. It was formed in 1976 by three high school and college friends, and now houses an exceptional combination of actors, directors and playwrights, its impressive repertoire of productions has earned it several accolades including the National Medal of Arts as well as 12 Tony Awards. The theater’s artistic drive is deeply rooted in its founders’ original vision of an artist-driven theater with an appetite for groundbreaking, innovative work.
Steppenwolf is firmly grounded in the Chicago community, and yet several of its original productions are both nationally and internationally renowned. The many education initiatives that are organized by Steppenwolf include the nationally recognized work of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, engaging about 15,000 participants annually from the city’s diverse communities, the School at Steppenwolf as well as professional leadership programs for arts and administration training. A seven-play season, a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season, visiting company engagements and LookOut, a multi-genre performance series are all part of the theater’s diverse artistic program.
Other cultural institutions that the LFF has supported include the Anderson Ranch Arts Center that focuses on highlighting human beings’ lifelong desire to develop personal creativity and to discover, learn and grow; the Art Institute of Chicago that has been recognized as one of the nation’s leading fine-arts institutions; the Aspen Art Museum, whose new construction was supported by the foundation; the Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization whose annual Aspen Ideas Festival brings together some of the most interesting thinkers and leaders from around the world; the Chicago Architecture Biennial, the largest architecture and design exhibition in North America; and Chicago Ideas, a unique public platform that inspires action through entertaining and accessible events, grassroots initiatives and through thought-provoking content. The LFF also contributed to the establishment the Chicago Ideas YOU(th) program that connects about 1,200 Chicago high school students with Chicago Ideas speakers each year. Furthermore, the LFF has contributed to the Millennium Park Foundation that maintains the status of the Millennium Park as a free and accessible venue; the Museum of Contemporary Art that offers free admission to those ages 18 and younger thanks to the foundation’s support; the Museum of Science and Industry that has been voted one of the best museums in the US as well as the top 15 museums in the world; the Ravinia Festival that attracts nearly 600,000 visitors per year; the Renaissance Society and the Whitney Museum of Art that is devoted to the art of the United States. Other cultural sectors that the LFF has contributed to include the organization that is responsible for Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid, dance, theatre and ballet companies, a public radio station as well as the Chicago Botanic Garden.
In addition to the LFF, the Lefkofskys’ philanthropic engagements include being part of the Giving Pledge, an organization whose members commit to dedicating more than half of their wealth to giving back. The Giving Pledge is a simple concept – it is an open invitation for billionaires to give away the majority of their wealth to a wide range of causes and do so publicly in order to make the world a better place. It was created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett along with several other philanthropists within the U.S. and abroad with the aim to collectively set a new generosity standard among the ultra-wealthy that would help shift the social norms of philanthropy toward giving more, sooner and smarter. The organization does not involve pooling money or supporting particular sets of causes or organizations. Instead, the pledge broadly asks that the individual give the majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes or charitable organization. This can either be during their lifetime or in their will. The pledgers give away their wealth to a diverse range of causes including poverty alleviation, disaster relief, global health, education, and medical research. Philanthropy can be bold, take important risks, and incubate new ideas. It can also partner effectively with government to scale up innovations for maximum impact.
Liz and Eric Lefkofsky join philanthropists such as Michael R. Bloomberg, Melinda and Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. In their pledge letter they write that “We recognize that perhaps our greatest accomplishment – with the exception of the kids we raise – will not come from businesses we’ve started, but from the help we provide to people and causes around the world. We believe, with the others who have signed this Pledge that we are truly at the cusp of life-changing achievements that will improve our collective quality of life, and have an everlasting impact on generations to come. We try and appreciate each day how truly precious life is. We try and remember that our good fortune was and is not an entitlement. And we try and recognize that while our lives are filled with so much good fortune, there are billions of others just trying to get by.”
The Giving Pledge, while originally only focused on the United States, drew attention from philanthropists globally and now includes 175 of the world’s wealthiest individuals, couples, and families, ranging in age from their 30s to their 90s. Globally, they represent 22 countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland and Taiwan), Cyprus, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Monaco, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, South Africa, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine, UAE, the United Kingdom, and the United States. According to Bill Gates, “This is about building on a wonderful tradition of philanthropy that will ultimately help the world become a much better place.”
In addition to his entrepreneurial and philanthropic engagements, Eric Lefkofsky has several academic involvements. He 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, which discusses several critical startup concepts as well as business development evolving at the speed of the next technological innovation. He graduated from the University of Michigan and received his Juris Doctor at University of Michigan Law School.
For more information on Eric Lefkofsky, please visit lefkofsky.com, LinkedIn: ericlefkofsky, Twitter: @lefkofsky or Facebook: @eplefkofsky. For more information on the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, please visit their website.