Saturday, November 19, 2011


Digital arts academy CEO Tullman adds mentor to résumé

November 21, 2011

"I have a pedestrian view of innovation," Howard Tullman says.

Photo by: Stephen J. Serio

Tote up another thing veteran entrepreneur Howard Tullman can do: mentor tech startups.

Mr. Tullman, who counts a dozen business launches on his profile, today is CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, a two-year vocational school for digital production and design. The class of 2009 included four students who went into business right after graduation, creating mobile games. Mr. Tullman guided them to morph their venture, Tap.Me Inc., into something else.

Today their company makes a platform that enables online players to build up points with in-game advertisers for rewards. More than 2.2 million users have enrolled in two dozen games sponsored by clients such as Oak Brook-based McDonald's Corp.

“Howard has always been there to tell me how it is with tough honesty and grace,” says Joshua Hernandez, 36, Tap.Me's executive vice-president and a co-founder. “I feel lucky to know a serial entrepreneur with his skills.”

Back in the day, Mr. Tullman was a three-piece-suit-wearing, well-groomed federal litigator. Since leaving the courtroom for the boardroom in 1980, he's switched to fleeces, T-shirts and jeans and let his hair grow into a shaggy mop. He seamlessly travels between academia, art, politics, venture capital and media. He's a big fan of Lady Gaga, even though, at age 66, he's not exactly in her demographic.

A St. Louis native who grew up in Highland Park and graduated from Northwestern University's Law School in 1970, Mr. Tullman has started a dozen companies. His first was CCC Information Services Inc., which created software to process automotive insurance claims. He took it public in 1983, three years after it was founded, and sold it in a $60- million leveraged buyout in 1989.

He went on to launch, which, as one of Chicago's first dot-coms, built a music website for Rolling Stone magazine, and Imagination Pilots Inc., a computer game developer. He became involved in for-profit education when he turned around money-losing Kendall College by transforming it into a culinary and hospitality school.

“I have a pedestrian view of innovation,” Mr. Tullman says. “An innovator is somebody who saves you time or money or increases your productivity by taking some of the inefficiencies out of processes.”

Mr. Tullman opened Tribeca Flashpoint in the Loop in 2007. It offers training in film and broadcast, audio recording, video and online games, animation and design, all in state-of-the art labs and studios. Tuition is $25,000 a year.

The school has grown to 600-plus students this year from 100 in its inaugural class. Revenue should top $12 million in 2011 from less than $1 million when it opened, Mr. Tullman says. The school has produced about 500 grads, 75% to 80% of whom, he says, have found work.

In addition to advising the Tap.Me crew, who have raised $1.4 million in first-round funding, Mr. Tullman has helped other startups. Karan Goel, chief executive of Chicago-based PrepMe, which provides college test-prep courses, says Mr. Tullman even came through personally with a six-figure bridge loan for PrepMe in early 2011 as Goel waited to spin off a portion of his company.

“He doesn't sugarcoat his advice, and that's what entrepreneurs need most,” Mr. Goel says. ”It didn't hurt that he put his money where his mouth was.”

© 2011 by Crain Communications Inc.

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