Howard Tullman, one of Chicago's best-known and most-successful serial entrepreneurs, is the new CEO of 1871, the startup hub at the Merchandise Mart that has become the city's calling card for tech.
Mr. Tullman to become a partner at Chicago Ventures. Mr. Tullman is taking the job and the accompanying lead role at the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center with the backing of both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn.
The 68-year-old who launched Tribeca Flashpoint Academy — a for-profit digital media school — after turning around Kendall College by focusing on culinary training. His other credits include CCC Information Services, Tunes.com and Cobalt Group.
Mr. Tullman has been a willing to mentor entrepreneurs, but he's also blunt and unflinching in assessing them. Expect him to move the goalposts both for the tenants at 1871 and for the organization.
“We need to get a little more rigor in the process” of selecting and evaluating entrepreneurs and their companies, he told me. “I don't want 500 guys there pretending to be entrepreneurs. I want to establish some discipline of up or out. This has got to be about creating value. We've run out the string of being about goodwill, warm feelings. I want 1871 to be a factory that's going to turn out the best startups in the country.
“I want to bring more practicality,” he added. “I want the results to go from 'how much money did you raise,' to 'how much revenue are you generating?' "
The 50,000-square-foot facility, which , is home to 240 entrepreneurs and startup companies who pay $125 to $400 a month for space on month-to-month leases. It's also home to accelerator programs TechStars and ImpactEngine, as well as space for meetings and events, such as talks that have drawn entrepreneurs such as and .
Mr. Tullman sketched out an ambitious to-do list when we talked yesterday:
• He said, a source of crowdfunding for tech startups that's based in San Francisco, will open its Midwest office at 1871, and he plans to “Nothing is a hotter topic among entrepreneurs,” he said.
• He'll draw on his Tribeca Flashpoint roots to add a studio to make videos to help spread the message about 1871 and Chicago's startups and to help educate a broader audience about entrepreneurship.
• Expect Mr. Tullman, who partnered with corporations at both Tribeca Flashpoint and Kendall College, to do the same at 1871. “These companies will want exposure to the ideas and potential customers,” he said. “I'm less interested in GE writing a check than having them being an in-kind partner.”
• Longer term, Mr. Tullman wants to find space for and need more room but aren't yet ready to go out on their own to lease offices. “One of the things I'm going to be looking at is whether 1871 2.0 is going to also have suites that can accommodate five to 15 guys.”
Even though rents in the Mart have been on the rise since 1871 opened its doors and Mr. Tullman was a longtime resident with Tribeca Flashpoint.
He is a great get to run 1871, which houses more than 240 individual entrepreneurs and startups. J.B. Pritzker, managing partner of Pritzker Group Venture Capital and founder of 1871, called Mr. Tullman's selection “a home run.” “I don't think anyone imagined we could get someone with the level of talent he brings,” he said.
Mr. Tullman became a candidate after the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, the not-for-profit that runs 1871, three months ago.
“Rahm and the governor both suggested I think about it,” says Mr. Tullman, who is connected as well in political circles as he is in the tech community. Mr. Emanuel, who has made tech startups a key focus for City Hall, is a frequent visitor to 1871; and Mr. Quinn provided $2.3 million from the state to help bankroll the facility.
Jim O'Connor Jr., co-chairman of the CEC board and its interim CEO, said Mr. Tullman was one of four finalists, who included candidates from both coasts. He was the unanimous choice. “Howard's a great catch,” he said. “Our two main criteria were to find a proven entrepreneur and a visionary with a track record of execution.”
Mr. Tullman, who sold majority control of Tribeca Flashpoint a year ago and resigned as chairman Friday, is uniquely positioned for the role
“I don't regard this as platform where I can go find my next job,” said Mr. Tullman, who plans to stay in the job two to three years. “It's a nice opportunity to take this whole story and facility to next level. The chance to work with all these companies is pretty exciting.”
Mr. Tullman also , which invests in local startups, including several based at 1871. Both he and his new bosses recognize potential for perceptions of conflict of interest with his new role but say there are procedures in place at the board level to avoid pitfalls.
“The real bottom line is the policy of the CEC is one of disclosure,” he said, but defended his role as an investor. "It helps to put your money where your mouth is. I want to continue to have the ability to do that.”
Though he doesn't officially start his job until the first week of January, expect Mr. Tullman to get an early start and keep going late. He typically gets up around 4 a.m. and often is on a second meal by the time he holds breakfast meetings with others. Few things slow him down, even a heart attack. While still in the intensive care unit a few years ago, Mr. Tullman was firing off emails, a former associate recalled.
“He's 68 going on 22,” Mr. O'Connor said.
All I can say is, set your alarm clocks.