Howard Tullman to leave 1871 at year-end – Technology News

on Aug3

2 August 2017 | 6:51 pm

Howard Tullman is retiring at the end of the year as CEO of 1871, the tech incubator at the Merchandise Mart that’s become the city’s symbolic tech hub.

Tullman, 72, took over 1871 a little more than three years ago from founding CEO Kevin Willer. The Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, which operates 1871, has begun a search and hopes to have a replacement by early November, when the group hosts its annual fundraising dinner. Jim O’Connor Jr., chairman of the CEC, will step down from that role at the end of 2018.

“It’s the right time to step out,” Tullman said. “I’m a builder. I enjoy (1871), but there are a lot of other things I enjoy, as well.”

There had been murmurs and speculation for more than a year about when Tullman would step down.

“We started talking about what the next steps are, what are the new strategic initiatives,” Tullman said. “I didn’t feel comfortable setting out on a bunch of new courses if I wasn’t going to be around.”

One of Chicago’s longest-tenured entrepreneurs, Tullman dramatically expanded 1871, which launched in 2012. The incubator grew from 50,000 square feet to about 150,000 square feet. It has about 500 tenant companies, more than double the amount when Tullman arrived. It relied heavily on funding from the state to get going, but last year became self-sufficient, with a bigger, broader mix of tenants and hosting more events. Tullman says annual revenue from 1871 has risen from about $2 million to its current pace of more than $9 million.

Tullman brought a unique mix of chutzpah and deep experience as an entrepreneur and startup investor, as well as close relationships with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Gov. Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker, who was a major force behind the launch of 1871. That allowed him to navigate the often-delicate politics of such a high-profile nonprofit with many benefactors and constituents. He also has been very high-profile beyond 1871, as a regular columnist for Inc. magazine and as a frequent corporate speaker.

“In many ways, he upped the ante,” said Troy Henikoff, an 1871 tenant and CEC board member who ran the Techstars accelerator that makes its home there. He runs a venture fund, MATH Venture Partners, that is based there, as well. “It’s hard to find someone for that role. It’s going to be a hard role to fill. It was hard to fill last time. There just aren’t that many people who have the background, credibility and experience to do that job.”

Among the challenges will be figuring out how much bigger 1871 should get, or if it’s too big, how it can best serve the needs of the startup community, and whether it should move beyond its downtown base to serve other parts of the city.

Tullman didn’t say exactly what he’ll do next. He teaches an entrepreneurship class at Dyett High School for the Arts. He also is an active startup investor with his fund, G2T3V. Clearly, retirement isn’t among the options. “There are some new things I want to be involved in,” he said. “There are some things going on in education around the city that are frankly as important as what we’ve been doing in tech.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn up at Illinois Institute of Technology, where he took his first computer class 50 years ago while still a high school student.

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