New CEO for 1871 technology hub at Merchandise Mart
BY SANDRA GUY Staff Reporter November 23, 2013 1:18AM
Howard Tullman. | Sun Times library
Updated: November 23, 2013 1:22AM
Howard Tullman — a serial entrepreneur, venture investor, one of Chicago’s glamour tech gurus and just-retired chairman of digital-age vocational school Tribeca Flashpoint Academy — will become the new CEO of the 1871 technology hub at the Merchandise Mart.
The 68-year-old Tullman, dubbed by Inc. magazine as “the most accomplished, best-connected entrepreneur you’ve never heard of,” told the Sun-Times that he is excited to start 1871’s version 2.0 on his first day on the job on Jan. 6, transforming it into a showcase that can be “a zillion times more creative and substantial” than it is now.
He is committed to a three-year stint at the 19-month-old tech hub, which is uniquely run as a project of the non-profit Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center (CEC). The center takes no equity stakes in the companies housed at 1871.
Tullman’s first priorities are to leverage his skills in partnering with big-name technology companies, much as he did as leader of Tribeca and culinary school Kendall College.
He envisions using those connections to set up at 1871 a 3D prototyping lab, a video show and studio — the Midwestern headquarters for crowdfunding site Indiegogo and an international exchange program with entrepreneurs in Brazil, London and Tel Aviv.
He also wants to lure big-name startups and possibly expand the 50,000-square-foot tech space in the Mart to include tech companies with five to 20 employees.
“The idea is to let young companies have their own, separate identities while still being able to access the many shared resources at 1871,” said Tullman, who visits the hub weekly and has invested in three of the 240 startup companies that have had a presence there.
About 500 entrepreneurs are based at 1871, which has received 1,200 applications from both entrepreneurs and startup companies since its inception.
Tullman emerged from a field of 50 “highly qualified” candidates and, ultimately, five finalists from throughout the United States to succeed Kevin Willer, 1871’s founding CEO who left in June to become a partner in Chicago-based seed-stage investing fund i2A, now called Chicago Ventures.
Bryant Keil, co-chair of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center who headed up the search committee, said Tullman won out because of his track record of starting a dozen successful companies; his willingness to “give back” to the Chicago tech community, and his outsized personality that has resulted in respect in the field and a reputation as a community builder.
Tullman is known for his frenetic energy, gray mane of hair, boastful but charming pronouncements and creating eclectic innovations ranging from 1991’s aggregation service that put college students’ resumes on CD-ROMs to 1993’s Imagination Pilots entertainment-based developer of computer games, to producing a 1995 Broadway musical, Swinging on a Star.
Jim O’Connor Jr., 1871’s interim CEO and CEC co-chair, said the tech hub needed “someone of a rock star caliber who is extremely efficient and operationally talented” to take 1871 to “a whole other level.”
The leader’s visibility is important because 1871 attracts visitors and speakers the likes of AOL founder Steve Case, retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and British Prime Minister David Cameron, O’Connor said.
O’Connor cited Tullman’s longevity, too, including Tullman’s founding of insurance claims-management firm CCC Information Services, Inc., 33 years ago, which he sold for $100 million, and “saving Kendall College by bringing it to Chicago and turning it into one of the Top 3 culinary schools in the United States.”
So far, 1871 boasts its startups in the first year have created 800 jobs, raised $40 million in investment capital and generated $15 million in taxable revenues.
O’Connor said the CEO job attracted many Chicago candidates throughout the search process, declining to give specifics.
“It’s the greatest job in Chicago,” O’Connor said. “You’re at the center of a tech revolution and you’re leading it.”