December is always a good time to reflect on the year that was. And on the Chicago tech beat, 2017 offered plenty of headlines.
From lawsuits, to major funding rounds, to a viral romper for dudes, these were the biggest stories across the Chicago tech and startup landscape in 2017.
You would be hard-pressed to find a startup in the U.S. that had a more turbulent year than Chicago’s Outcome Health. The company raised its first-ever round of venture capital in its 11-year history in May, bringing in over $500 million at a whopping $5 billion valuation. Investors including Goldman Sachs, Alphabet, and the Pritzker Group participated in the round. Outcome, which makes doctor’s office tablets that help physicians engage with patients at the point of care, then announced in September it was building a new Chicago headquarters where it planned to hire 2,000 more workers by 2022.
But then the following month, the Wall Street Journal published a story alleging that Outcome misled advertisers by manipulating data and inflating the performance of ads. The investors that put $500 million into the company just five months prior sued Outcome for fraud, and in November Outcome gave buyouts to around 200 employees, cutting its staff by more than a third.
Amazon announced in September that it was looking for a second North American headquarters to be a “full equal” to its current campus in Seattle. The e-commerce giant solicited bids from cities and states (receiving over 200 submissions) and officials in Chicago and Illinois jumped at the chance to tout Chicago as the logical home for HQ2. Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Bruce Rauner offered up 10 possible location spots to Amazon, including the Old Main Post Office and the former McDonald’s headquarters.
Amazon said it plans to invest more than $5 billion in the construction of HQ2, which looks to eventually employ 50,000 people and take up 8 million square feet. Amazon plans to make its selection in 2018. Chicago officials believe there will be at least one round of cities that make Amazon’s “short list,” which could be announced as early as January.
In October, Chicago nutrition bar maker RXBAR was acquired by Kellogg for $600 million. The company, which launched in 2013 and took almost no outside funding, was founded by Peter Rahal and Jared Smith, who began making the bars in Rahal’s parents’ basement in the suburbs. The startup quickly grew to be one of the fastest growing nutrition bar brands in the U.S., and is expected to do $120 million in revenue this year.
Chicago predictive analytics startup Uptake announced large fundraises three times in 2017. Uptake raised $40 million from Revolution Growth in February and added on an additional $50 million in April. Then in November it raised a $117 million Series D round led by UK venture fund Baillie Gifford. Uptake has grown to over 800 Chicago employees since it launched in 2014.
But alongside the company’s fast growth and large funding rounds, two investors pulled their equity stakes in Uptake this year. In November Caterpillar, Uptake’s pilot customer, halted its investment in the startup—though it remains a customer. And this month Valor Equity Partners also announced it was ending its investment in Uptake.
Publicly traded food delivery company Grubhub has seen a very strong 2017, as its stock reached record highs in December. The company impressed investors with solid Q3 earnings, reporting revenues of $163 million, up 32 percent year-over-year. Grubhub also closed three acquisitions last quarter—Foodler, OrderUp and Yelp’s Eat24—which CEO Matt Maloney says has the company poised for even more growth. The threat of Amazon and Uber eating Grubhub’s lunch clearly hasn’t scared the Chicago-based company or its investors.
You may have forgotten, but the RompHim (aka the “Romper for Dudes”) was everywhere last summer. The internet was obsessed with this fashion statement once thought of as only an outfit for women. But you also might not know that the company behind the RompHim is actually a Chicago startup, which launched a Kickstarter for the piece of clothing that raised over $350,000, well over its $10,000 goal.
Chicago saw a growing number of insurance tech startups launch and raise venture funding in 2017, including Kin Insurance, Clearcover, DataCubes and Snapsheet. Chicago is also home to Arity, a tech startup born out of Allstate that uses data from smartphones and vehicles to help evaluate the risk of a driver and now employs 300 people. Add the presence of State Farm, Zurich, CNA and Aon, and Chicago is “likely to become, if we’re not already, the center of anything going on with technology and insurance,” Fred Hoch, founder and general partner at TechNexus, told us in November.
Chicago startup Opternative, which lets people take an eye exam from their computer at home to renew contacts prescriptions, has sued Warby Parker for breach of contract and theft of trade secrets. Opternative, which first had discussions with Warby Parker in 2013 after it reached out to the Chicago startup to talk about a potential partnership, said Warby Parker launched a competing version of Opternative’s service based on its technology. Warby Parker signed non-disclosure agreements, according to the suit, to not copy Opternative’s proprietary information. Opternative said it’s seeking financial compensation from Warby Parker.
This year we got more information about Chris Gladwin’s next venture, Ocient. Gladwin, a serial Chicago entrepreneur who sold his last business, Cleversafe, for $1.3 billion, now wants to help companies read and understand data that’s so big, it doesn’t even exist yet. Ocient is preparing for a future where businesses will be producing trillions of rows of data, and won’t have the ability to analyze it by themselves. That’s where Ocient comes in. “Name a new plane or a new phone that makes less data than the old one did,” Gladwin told us. “Generally speaking, new technology makes more data. There’s a need to analyze that.”
Tempus, a Chicago startup from Groupon Co-Founder Eric Lefkofsky, announced in September that it had raised $70 million in funding from New Enterprise Associates and Revolution Growth. It was the first announced round of funding for Tempus, though the company said it has now raised a total of $130 million in outside capital. Tempus takes a data-driven approach to cancer treatment by using machine learning and genomic sequencing to better understand a patient’s tumor, and tailors a treatment plan best suited to combat it. Tempus has partnered with cancer-fighting institutions like the Mayo Clinic, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and the University of Michigan, who send their patients to Tempus to get sequenced.
An ambitious proposal to connect Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh via high-speed transportation was selected as one of 10 winners of Hyperloop One’s Global Challenge. The plan, which would get riders from Chicago to Columbus in under thirty minutes and from Columbus to Pittsburgh in just 20 minutes, was developed by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, a business group in Columbus that wants to make central Ohio more accessible to other major cities. The Midwest Hyperloop plan, and the nine other winning proposals, now get to move forward in the Hyperloop process, though there is no guarantee of implementation.
Howard Tullman announced in August that he is stepping down from his role as 1871 CEO. Tullman, a serial entrepreneur who took over the reins at the Chicago tech hub and co-working space four years ago, said he is moving on from the organization and a consulting company will be tasked with finding his replacement. A replacement has yet to be announced.
Tullman said he plans to remain with 1871 into the new year as a new CEO is brought on. Tullman founded CCC Information Services, a Chicago tech company he sold in 1987 for $100 million. Since then, Tullman has launched a myriad of companies, including Original Research, Boats.com, UsedCars.com, and Tunes.com, which he sold for $140 million. He also launched Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, the Rolling Stone Network, and Experiencia.