One-on-One: Drew Tulchin – President of the New Mexico Angels - Albuquerque Journal

One-on-One: Drew Tulchin – President of the New Mexico Angels

Picture this: a bundled-up elementary school kid selling garden seeds in the middle of a snowstorm.

That was Drew Tulchin, who recognized that he had a captive market because all the neighbors were home from work due to the weather.

“My neighbors often remembered this and said, ‘Only Drew would think a snowstorm is a good time to sell seeds,'” says Tulchin, who grew up in North Carolina. “Whereas my logic was, I was home from school so I had this opportunity and it was an available marketplace.”

No surprise, then, that Tulchin grew up to be a veteran entrepreneur and investor who became the first CFO of the Meow Wolf artist collective and who now heads the New Mexico Angels.

The Angels, which provide seed and early-stage capital to startup companies, have played a prominent role in New Mexico since incorporating in 2000. It went on hiatus during the pandemic but sprung back last January, when Tulchin took over.

The Angels this year have helped 13 companies and invested over $4.8 million in early-stage startups. In addition, the Angels have unlocked $5.1 million in capital for New Mexico “high-growth” companies, Tulchin says.

Tulchin came to New Mexico almost 15 years ago, investing and assisting such startups as Meow Wolf, Electric Playhouse and Build With Robots.

But his entrepreneurial spirit goes back much further and reflects his belief that business can create social change.

After a turn volunteering with the nonprofits Vista and Americorps, Tulchin made a shift and worked as a liaison between banks and poor populations in more than 50 countries to “bring finance to people who didn’t have access.”

“Working with nonprofits, I became frustrated by the limitations of change and action that were available to community groups — lack of money, lack of resources, lack of access to power,” Tulchin says. “So I sought my MBA to try to understand how I might be able to do social change a little differently. I was able to learn about what is now called social enterprise — being able to ensure that businesses are doing things that are good for the world, in addition to making a product for profit.”

What do you think has made you successful in your career?

“I think that I work really hard. I think that I’m tenacious about the causes that I choose to be a part of and that being able to do this work is really a social good. Therefore, my ‘product’ — so to speak, in air quotes — is something that everyone should want. My experience in New Mexico is that there’s a feeling of scarcity and that because of that … there’s a zero sum behavior. And I don’t believe that that’s necessary for our startup community, and I think it’s a disservice to the startup community. Therefore, I comport myself in the organizations that I’m organizing in a way so that we can all participate and win.”

Is there a project you’re particularly proud of?

“There have been many. I’m very proud of the work I got to do with Meow Wolf and the work of those creatives in bringing an idea to reality and working collectively toward a … goal. It really was a magical moment. In addition, I’m privileged to be able to work with the pueblo of Acoma on their business advisory council. It’s a true honor to be able to give what advice I have and what connections I have to a Native American community that is incredibly strong … and is developing business to advance their nation and their people.”

Who inspires you?

“The entrepreneurs that I meet in New Mexico, my hats off to all of them. They are hard-working, dedicated, relentless people, and there are many, many successes and unsung heroes in our New Mexico startup ecosystem. There’s a great national organization called Social Venture Circle, and I became a member after being a hanger-on for a couple of years. Ben and Jerry of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream are members. And so I found a really strong peer group and a number of people who are a half-step or one step older than me in both age and in professional experience.”

Besides selling seeds, what was your first job?

“There was a football stadium and the Dean Smith dome, which was a new basketball stadium at UNC (University of North Carolina), and they would have rock concerts. So my first job was as a parking attendant because I could get in for free. I earned, I don’t even know if it was minimum wage, … but I got to do this job with other people who I knew, and then I got to go see sports games and rock ‘n’ roll. Pink Floyd is one I remember for sure.”

What do you do in your free time?

“I work and then I volunteer. I mentor quite a number of both nonprofits and entrepreneurs who are early in their effort. And then, also, sports are fun. I have a group of folks that I run with. I play ultimate Frisbee. I actually just got back from an international beach tournament … It was in Sardinia, of all places. We were fourth. That worked out pretty well.”

Where are your favorite places?

“An international place where there’s a little bit of sadness right now is Afghanistan. I went there three times for economic development. I was so ignorant, and there were so many amazing people that were willing to share who they were, what their country was about, what they were trying to do. It’s really sad to me that the United States and other countries have spent so much money … and nobody really has very much to show for it. My preference would be that we collectively think about development and how it can affect the local people, and let’s take that capital and have them use it for themselves to solve their own problems.”

What makes you laugh?

“Most things. I think we should all be laughing. The amount of laughter I’ve had with people who I don’t even share the same language with is wonderful. And then I also think that clowns get a bad rap.”

What are you optimistic about?

“So many examples of individuals … who are standing up and stepping forward. The heroism of young people who are being handed such a bad basket of goods by inept leadership and short-term thinking. I’ve met incredible young people who were so much more advanced in their thinking than I was at their age, and it really fills me with amazement and wonder. Anything I can do to help these social entrepreneurs and community activists — I’m just pleased to be able to be in their shine.”

 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed Drew Tulchin’s former position at Meow Wolf. He was the organization’s first chief financial officer, not its first chief executive officer. The story has been updated.

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