Venture capitalist shoots for next big thing
7wire's Glen Tullman aims to harness communication technology to improve health care and education
Tullman, the co-founder of 7wire Ventures, passes a note to a visitor when his longtime business partner, Lee Shapiro, walks into a strategy meeting a few minutes late.
"Always late. Likes to make a big entrance," the note reads.
A few minutes later, Tullman walks out of the meeting still in progress.
"Tends to step out of meetings to pretend he's important," Shapiro retorts in another passed note after seeing Tullman's.
In a subsequent interview, Laurie McGraw, a former colleague from Tullman's days as chief executive of Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc., reminisced about a client meeting when Tullman tried a few antics to lighten the mood.
"The company was really just starting to hum, and we got this big meeting with Thomas Jefferson University that was hugely important for us," said McGraw, now CEO of Shareable Ink, a Nashville, Tenn., health data firm.
"We were in a boardroom with 50 seats and portraits around the room and all this history. It was a very big presentation, and we had done an enormous amount of preparation. So Glen and I are sitting next to each other, and he could tell I was nervous. I just remember listening to the most senior person in the organization speaking to us and Glen is kicking my shoe off every few minutes," she recalled with a laugh.
Tullman's playfulness belies a dogged work ethic (6 a.m. Sunday phone meetings are routine) and a serious passion about using technology to improve health and education, two areas of focus for Chicago-based 7wire Ventures. The company also has stakes in Argo Tea, a glass blowing workshop and an online pawnshop.
He personally has given more than $5 million and substantial fundraising muscle to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation since two family members were diagnosed with the disease.
But it's not enough to support research through philanthropy, he believes, so his venture firm has a social entrepreneurship bent, aiming to do well by doing good.
"We have to get business focused on solving the big social problems," he said. "We can't expect charities to do it alone."
About 16 months after leaving Allscripts amid big stock declines and wrenching board turmoil, Tullman, 54, is getting close to unveiling his next big thing — an infusion of West Coast capital to create a Silicon Valley-based startup that will focus on chronic disease management using body sensors and monitoring from the cloud. He and Shapiro have invested their own money (from years of salary and stock awards at Allscripts) in 7wire.
"Picture ADT for your body," he said, referring to the company that makes home security systems. The sensors might monitor a diabetes patient's blood glucose and how quickly insulin is being absorbed based on the patient's exercise routine that day. Or they might detect elevated white blood cell counts, indicating a patient's natural infection-fighting response to a new illness. That information would then be linked, through the user's mobile phone, to medical personnel.
"Imagine getting a call from your doctor's office that you're going to be sick tomorrow, and here are a few things you can do to get ahead of it," Tullman said, beaming with an entrepreneur's excitement as he describes the possibilities.
A formal announcement is expected in a few months, but essentially there will be a software development team in California, and a support and services team in Chicago, Tullman said.
Tullman said the deal is not tied to his advisory role with Box, the Los Altos, Calif., cloud-based data storage firm that recently filed a prospectus for a $250 million initial public offering. Last month, he and Aneesh Chopra, former chief technology officer for the United States, signed on to advise the company's health care practice, which Box officials called their fastest-growing unit.
But Tullman said it will be the biggest move yet for 7wire, named for Cyrus West Field's trans-Atlantic cable — it was made of seven copper wires — that connected Europe with North America in 1866.
7wire's mission includes using communication technology to bring about radical advances in health care and education — where two of the world's most pressing problems reside, in Tullman's view. There's a world of hurt in medical facilities and schools, he said, and both are sorely in need of innovation.
The privately held venture capital firm invests in a roster of 10 companies. Among them: Digedu, a creator of classroom technology, is run by Matthew Tullman, a nephew. EosHealth is a diabetes management system, and WiserTogether Inc. is a Washington online tool that provides customized health information to patients through employers and insurance companies.