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“People who do great things are persistent and surround themselves with good people,” said Andrew Mason, Northwestern graduate and Groupon founder on May 23.

2012 Entrepreneur@NU Conference

2012 entrepreneur@nu Conference

Groupon founder Andrew Mason’s fireside chat highlights event that promotes Northwestern’s entrepreneurial ecosystem

By Daniel P. Smith

5/25/2012 - Before Groupon became the company Forbes labeled “The Fastest Growing Company Ever,” there was The Point.

Unveiled in late 2007, the collective action and fundraising Web site from Northwestern University graduate Andrew Mason struggled in its opening year.

Fortunately, Mason believes the best ideas sit only “a baby step away.”

Mason and his team transformed The Point’s collective action and tipping point concepts into the retail space and launched Groupon, which has amassed 150 million subscribers and infiltrated nearly 50 countries since its October 2008 debut.

Alongside another Northwestern alum, Peter Barris, managing general partner at New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and one of Groupon’s earliest investors, Mason shared Groupon’s journey with more than 200 Northwestern students, alumni and entrepreneurs in a keynote fireside chat at the 2012 entrepreneur@nu Conference held May 23 at the Norris University Center.

“The Groupon Effect”
In the hour-long program titled “The Groupon Effect on Northwestern, Chicago and the Midwest,” Mason addressed questions from Barris and the audience on diverse issues, including competitive barriers, retaining culture, being a public company and Groupon’s future.

Mason said Groupon’s success resides in solving a problem for both consumers and merchants. In addition, the company focuses on developing a culture that affords talented employees the autonomy to build.

“People who do great things are persistent and surround themselves with good people,” the Northwestern music major said.

Mason also termed Chicago the ideal city for Groupon’s genesis and a place that could offer just as productive an entrepreneurial climate for others.

“Chicago was the perfect spot with its Midwestern pragmatism and its openness to using people to solve problems rather than technology,” said Mason, who joined Barris, a charter trustee at Northwestern, in expressing a commitment to advancing entrepreneurship among the university’s student and alumni ranks.

Entrepreneurship everywhere
The second annual entrepreneur@nu event assembled Northwestern’s deep entrepreneurship network, including the Kellogg School of Management, the McCormick School of Engineering and the Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, for a range of activities spotlighting Northwestern and Chicago’s ever-evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem. Programs included:
  • Panel discussions on creating a startup based on university research, raising capital and growing in Chicago, constructing a team and Chicago incubators
  • 30-minute legal clinic sessions with Chicago area firms that assist startups
  • A demonstration area showcasing 14 local startups
  • VC and angel office hours that granted entrepreneurs sales approach feedback
The conference also featured the final round of the Northwestern Venture Challenge (NUVC), in which six student startups competed for a grand prize of $15,000. NuMat Technologies, which computationally designs and synthesizes high-performing nanomaterials for gas storage and separation applications, earned top honors.

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