1871 CEO, Northwestern alumnus Howard Tullman talks entrepreneurship


Luke Vogelzang/The Daily Northwestern

Howard Tullman, CEO of 1871, replies to student questions Tuesday. Tullman spoke about success at this year’s Lehman Brothers Lecture.

Hal Jin, Reporter

Howard Tullman, CEO of startup incubator 1871, returned to his alma mater Tuesday to give a lesson on entrepreneurship.

More than 50 people attended Tullman’s (Weinberg ’67, Law ’70) lecture, this year’s Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program’s Lehman Brothers Lecture, in the Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center.

Tullman advised audience members on how to make a startup successful and explained the mindsets of successful entrepreneurs.

“We’re not in the business of making money,” he said. “We’re in the business of people who want to make a difference.”

The company, named for the rebuilding of Chicago after the 1871 fire, currently houses 350 digital technology startups. The hub, which Tullman said he thought was even more selective than NU, has graduated 65 companies.

“If you’re doing this, you need to care about it and care about it daily because it’s really hard,” Tullman said. At 1871, we’ve said we don’t need another 17 dating sites. You don’t want to spend a lot of time putting lipstick on a pig — you could be doing more important things.

Tullman, who has been called the “the champ of serial entrepreneurs,” has founded more than a dozen high-tech companies over the past 45 years. Aside from his work at 1871, he is also a general managing partner of venture funds and an adjunct professor at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, where he lectures about entrepreneurship.

Tullman said that because of his decade of experience as a lawyer and his background as an engineer, he’s not like other entrepreneurs.

“I’ve been incredibly lucky to have started 12 startups when ordinarily having a 3-out-of-10 success rate would be considered very successful,” he told The Daily.

During his presentation, Tullman emphasized the importance of executing good plans “violently” and not waiting to form the perfect plan. In today’s age, all the answers are available and “I don’t know” is the equivalent of saying “I’m lazy,” Tullman said.

“Work is, in the real world and in any world, more important than creativity, more important than talent, more important than sheer brains,” he said. “We might not be the smartest person in the world, but at the end of the day we will work the hardest.”

An incubator space for NU startups modeled after 1871 is slated to launch June 16, said Alicia Loffler, executive director of the Innovation and New Ventures Office. The Garage, located near the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion, aims to provide a space for aspiring student entrepreneurs, she said.

One student interested in using the Garage is Cem Ozer, a freshman who attended the lecture.

“He gave some really good advice,” the McCormick student said. “The talk was not on how to start a startup, but on how to be an entrepreneur.”

Ozer started a textile company in high school that specialized in producing cold weather products. Although his company failed due to too much competition, Ozer said he wants to use the Garage when he comes up with more ideas.

“There are plenty of students here who are intelligent who mainly go into consulting positions, but some take a little risk,” said Patty FitzGibbons, assistant director of BIP. “The lecture gives them maybe a little more strength to be able to pursue other options.”

Those other options might be difficult, if Tullman is to be believed.

“The great thing is today just about everyone wants to be an entrepreneur,” Tullman said. “If we knew how long a path it’d be, none of us would’ve done it.”

When an audience member asked what Tullman does when he can’t focus, the entrepreneur let out a short laugh.

“That’s not my problem,” he said.

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Correction: A previous version of this story misrepresented 1871’s accomplishments. It has graduated 65 companies. The Daily regrets the error.