Visionary entrepreneur Howard Tullman takes tech incubator 1871 to uncharted heights as it reaches the five-year mark
One wonders if Howard Tullman ever sees anything but opportunity. Widely recognized as one of the most influential and connected men in Chicago, he famously reversed the fortunes of Kendall College in the mid-2000s and, several years later, co-founded the innovative Tribeca Flashpoint College. And while those were stunning accomplishments both, it’s safe to say that Tullman is truly leaving his mark on the city with tech incubator 1871.
Under the serial entrepreneur’s leadership, 1871 is, simply, on fire. Since taking the position of CEO in 2013, he’s transformed the Merchandise Mart-based org from a donation- and grant-fed venture to a booming nonprofit business. “If we hadn’t morphed the model, we’d be sharing just a fraction of what we have now,” he says, sitting behind a giant David Bowie portrait in his office.
More than 500 startups are now members; 1871 has graduated 200 companies that have raised $200 million and created 7,000 jobs—and it has repeatedly been rated the best tech incubator in the country. Just as impressively, it’s currently offering or developing a mind-boggling array of community outreach programs, educational initiatives and networking events.
“We’ll be doing about 1,000 events this year,” says Tullman. “That’s everyone from Sheryl Sandberg to the head of U.S. tech to the mayors of Paris and London. Because they’re trying to do this too.”
As Tullman points out, no single sector currently accounts for more than 13 percent of the enviably diverse Chicago economy. In coming years, though, tech is likely to play an increasingly large role. And 1871 and the man behind it are playing no small part.