Brad Keywell has been named the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year for 2019, marking a record third win for the US in the competition’s 19-year history.
The serial entrepreneur, also known for co-founding voucher website Groupon, was recognised for building Uptake Technologies, a maker of AI software for industrial companies.
Within four years of its founding in 2014, Mr Keywell grew Chicago-based Uptake into a company that he says now employs more than 550 staff with a valuation exceeding $2bn.
“Entrepreneurs are not entrepreneurs because it is something that they decide they want to do. It is because it is what they must do,” Mr Keywell said in his award acceptance speech at a gala dinner in Monaco.
He also paid tribute to his longtime business partner Eric Lefkofsky, and to his mentor Sam Zell, the US billionaire property magnate.
The American beat regional finalists from 46 countries whose businesses covered 11 sectors and boasted combined annual revenues of $44bn. These included Hirotake Yano, founder of Japanese discount store chain Daiso, and brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa, co-founders of EG Group, which owns 5,200 service stations worldwide.
Mr Keywell founded Uptake after a faulty aircraft delayed his daughter’s flight because the airline did not have the correct replacement part to hand. Uptake’s AI software analyses industrial equipment to determine whether a fault is looming, using data-science models to predict problems before they occur.
The group said its technology can save its clients millions of dollars by encouraging better maintenance of machinery and reducing down time. Its customers include Rolls-Royce, Caterpillar and the US Army.
“We have a platform that provides insights that can help heavy industry be more productive, more reliable and more safe,” Mr Keywell told the FT.
Companies in sectors including mining, manufacturing, energy and aviation preferred Uptake to software sold by machine makers, he said. “That is like asking your carpenter to build your smart home network,” he said.
“AI will absolutely change humanity. It will change humanity for the better.”
Uptake does not disclose its financial results.
Mr Keywell, who got his first taste of business as a 6-year-old selling greeting cards, also impressed the judges with his philanthropy. He launched Future Founders, a non-profit organisation that helps inner city youths start their own businesses.
He and his wife Kim set up the Keywell Foundation to support social entrepreneurs and in 2016 signed the Giving Pledge, undertaking to give away more than half of their wealth. Signatories include Microsoft founder Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett and Chris Hohn, the activist investor behind The Children’s Investment Fund.
“The thing that stuck out for me [about the 2019 nominees] was the social awareness . . . and general philanthropy,” said Manny Stul, the Australian founder of toymaker Moose, who won in Monaco in 2016 and is now a judge at the annual event.
He told the FT that more business people were deciding to give money away, inspiring others. “Some of the great and respected names in the world are making more of [philanthropy] now than they were before. You give 10 per cent in many different cultures. We lost that and it is coming back.”
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