Tullman to lead Illinois Tech's Kaplan Institute
John Pletz on Tech
April 16, 2018
You knew Howard Tullman wasn't going to sit still for long after leaving 1871. The veteran entrepreneur who has dabbled in tech and education for several decades, is heading south to Bronzeville, where he's going to launch a new innovation and entrepreneurship center at Illinois Institute of Technology.
Tullman, 72, takes over as executive director of the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship on May 1. The 70,000-square-foot center on the school's main campus will be completed in October.
"Howard is the perfect person to launch the Kaplan Institute," said Alan Cramb, president of Illinois Tech. "We've known Howard for a number of years. A number of trustees said we should hire him."
Tullman ran 1871, the city's well-known tech incubator at the Merchandise Mart, for the past four years, stepping down as CEO earlier this month. He previously launched several tech companies, including CCC Information Services, before turning around Kendall College and then launching Tribeca Flashpoint College, a for-profit digital media school. He's also a longtime investor in tech startups.
"I'm excited," Tullman said of the new job. "It's a total greenfield."
The institute, which is still under construction, is named for Ed Kaplan, founder of Zebra Technologies, one of the Chicago area's early publicly traded technology companies, who got his undergraduate degree at Illinois Tech. A member of the institute's board, he and his wife donated $11 million to get the project rolling. Kaplan went on to earn an MBA from the University of Chicago, where he also is launched the school's business-plan competition, the New Venture Challenge.
Cramb says the Kaplan Institute isn't an incubator. The university already has one of those. It will be a 24-hour facility that will house a maker lab and other services, as well as the school's Institute of Design. "We'll be happy if companies form, but it's not the primary mission," Cramb said. "We want to set up a culture that values and encourages creativity, one that leads to innovation among our students and faculty. We want to make sure undergrads understand entrepreneurship and innovation and creativity."
Illinois Tech, which has 4,600 graduate students and 2,700 undergrads, is well-known for its engineering and computer science programs, as well as its architecture school. "It's an interesting school," Tullman said in an interview. "It's left-brain, right-brain."
The aim of the Kaplan Institute is to give Illinois Tech students a place to design, build and collaborate. Universities are scrambling to give students training and opportunities in entrepreneurship, especially in fast-changing professional world in which traditional careers are less available and less desirable to many students.
It's a homecoming of sorts for Tullman. Although he got his undergraduate and law degrees from Northwestern University, Tullman took his first college class, a programming course, at IIT, as it was known then, in 1963 while he was still in high school. He'll also be a professor and commencement speaker next month. Tullman's goals extend well beyond the South Side campus.
"This school has more of these first-generation success stories than any other place. The trick is: how can you make them entrepreneurial, as well?" he told me. "If you can be a pipeline for graduates in engineering and computer science with entrepreneurial skills—and feed them into corporations here, the city will take another step forward. It's ridiculous more people don't understand that you have this resource that turns out amazing graduates. I plan to fix that."
No one ever accused Tullman of thinking small.