Thursday, February 06, 2014

IVCA Profile: Howard Tullman, Recently Named CEO of the 1871 Start-up Tech Hub

IVCA Profile: Howard Tullman, Recently Named CEO of the 1871 Start-up Tech Hub

February 5, 2014
In November of last year, Chicago’s ambitious start-up hub – dubbed 1871 – named Howard Tullman its new CEO. Tullman replaced former head Kevin Willer, and also takes on the accompanying lead role at the Chicago Entrepreneurial Center (CEC). 1871 opened in May of 2012, and is home to over 200 entrepreneurs and start up companies. The idea is to develop these companies, present them to investors and have them “graduate” to office space in the city that generates employment. So far, the businesses at 1871 have attracted $40 million in investment capital and have created 800 jobs that have contributed an estimated $15 million to the Illinois economy.

Howard Tullman is a proven choice for the CEO position. As a long-time entrepreneur, he has created many companies – most notably CCC Information Services, which created thousands of jobs in Chicago and nationally – and has been a willing mentor to start-ups and entrepreneurs in his career. He also has exceptional credentials in education, as he re-engineered Kendall College and founded the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. He now takes on 1871, which is an extension of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal of doubling Chicago’s tech economy to add 40,000 jobs in the next 10 years.

The IVCA interviewed Howard Tullman, as the new year begins for 1871.

IVCA: When you were first under consideration for the 1871 CEO position, what did you propose that you think got you named to the post?

Howard Tullman: I've been starting successful businesses – more than a dozen – for 40 years, with about a billion dollars worth of successful exits. I've taught entrepreneurship and change management for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University for more than 30 years. I don't think that the selection was especially based on what I proposed – I think it was far more driven by my experience and enthusiasm for the job – although there was a definite interest in my ‘up or out’ approach.

IVCA: How were you able to observe the procedures at 1871 and what did you observe that you felt wasn't working?

Tullman: I was involved with 1871 in developing the positioning and the mission long before the doors opened. I have been involved for the last two years in speaking there, investing in 1871 companies, plus judging and evaluating businesses. So observing the progress and operations wasn't an issue. There were many exciting and successful policies and procedures in place and some that clearly needed tightening and improving. Both lists are long.

IVCA: Conversely, what did you observe working well at the center, and how do you propose to make that purpose even better?

Tullman: The single most successful aspect of 1871 to date was the creation of a convening ‘place’ for tech entrepreneurs and a supportive community to surround them. My agenda – and the areas I want to focus on – includes...
  • Providing additional common resources, including video production, design and creative groups, tech help desk hub and a ‘start-up and set-up kit’ to welcome new entrepreneurs.
  • Providing additional promotional resources – such as a weekly tech broadcast on the web originating from 1871 and an in-house agency for media support.
  • Creating more connections and geographic resources – exchanging with international co-educational programs in other countries.
  • Providing new education programming, like start-up engineering.
  • Strictly enforcing an ‘up or out’ discipline to establish a success-based culture
  • Evolving a casual community into a compelling community, a credential that 1871 is the place to be in and come from, as a testament to its persistence and passion. 
  • Aggressively celebrating our specific success stories, promoting and marketing those successes on a national scale. That is valuable brand currency.
  • Making sure that city government promotes the very important point that through 1871, a tech entrepreneur can come to Chicago to start a business, or even work for small and big businesses here.

IVCA: You have been described in the press as having a more "drill sergeant" approach to the operations of 1871. Is that a fair assessment of what you are planning or have implemented for the center?

Tullman: I am definitely interested in making 1871 into a far more serious and rigorous  place that produces real self-sustaining businesses – I have no interest in running a YMCA or a student union – I want to build the best start-up ‘factory’ in the country and I'm only interested in measurable results.

IVCA: You recently have expanded into academia with the reworking of Kendall College and the development of Tribeca Flashpoint. What did you learn in those circumstances that can be applied to 1871?

Tullman: My school building activities have been ongoing for more than a dozen years now – I don't think of that as recent, although compared to 45 years of my business career I guess it's on the more recent end of the spectrum. The most important thing we learned and implemented at Tribeca Flashpoint Academy was to tell the truth – sometimes the difficult truth – to all of our students. Not everyone is exceptional, not everyone is cut out to make great films or build and run their own business. I think that the most important thing we can do at 1871 is to focus on the ideas and companies that have a real shot at winning. With the other folks, whose ideas aren't viable or scalable, we can save them a lot of pain, time, money and unhappiness by the suggestion that they focus their energies on something else.

IVCA: One of the areas you want to focus on is to establish ‘expert review panels’ for start-ups in 1871. Have you begun the process of these panels, and how do you envision the review process to work?

Tullman: I have already announced this program at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce meeting for their members, and have begun to recruit panel members, which will be quarterly company progress reviews in clusters of related businesses.

IVCA: What does the city of Chicago offer the potential entrepreneur at 1871, and where do you think the city is deficient still in attracting tech innovators?

Tullman: Mayor Emanuel has been very vocal and supportive of 1871, and makes a point of regularly visiting and promoting our success stories – as well as encouraging out of town visitors to come for tours and to see our member businesses. The mayor's Venture Conference Initiative, beginning in July, will also be a big help in exposing our companies to venture capital sources from across the country.

IVCA: How can the members of the IVCA best interact with 1871, to make it a thriving tech center and a place of innovation?

Tullman: There are several ways – join our review panels, make more investments in Chicago-based and built-in-Chicago businesses, hold office hours for our member companies and spread the word about what's happening in 1871 to other venture capital sources outside of Chicago. Encourage them to take a look at what we're building here.

For more information about 1871, click here.

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