Illinois Wesleyan Entrepreneur in Residence Marc Talluto ’94 provides students with
experiential learning opportunities through internships that benefit IWU’s Design,
Technology and Entrepreneurship program.
Marc Talluto ’94 comes from a family of teachers. His parents are teachers. His siblings
are teachers. Their spouses are teachers.
But, alas, Talluto did not choose that career path. Instead, he is a self-described
“serial entrepreneur,” best known for founding and building the information technology
service management consulting company Fruition Partners. He is also an adviser, consultant,
board member and investor in a number of tech companies, startups and real-estate
Talluto keeps plenty busy, but teaching is still in his DNA.
As such, he has remained connected to his alma mater in myriad ways. He currently
serves on Illinois Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees and previously served on the Alumni
Association Board of Directors. He sponsors scholarships. He established IWU’s Entrepreneurship
Fellowship, which twice a year awards a student (or student group) a grant of $5,000
to pursue an entrepreneurial vision.
Talluto additionally serves as Illinois Wesleyan’s “entrepreneur in residence,” where
his expertise is an asset to IWU’s Design, Technology and Entrepreneurship program.
For students thinking of starting a business or investing in a startup, Talluto is
an unparalleled resource. Many have gleaned knowledge from him while enrolled in the
upper-level DTE courses he has co-taught the past four semesters.
But the newest — and perhaps most interesting — way that Talluto has given back to
his alma mater is through an initiative that could only have been imagined by someone
with his entrepreneurial spirit.
At the outset of his term as IWU’s entrepreneur in residence, Talluto pondered the
idea of a student-run business. He considered many options: a bakery, coffee shop,
pizza place, food truck, a franchise of some sort. But he admittedly knew nothing
about food service.
Then came the light-bulb moment.
“I know real estate, and Airbnb is a proven platform,” he said. “That was the genesis
Talluto’s idea was to bring together a group of students and have them run a local
residential property as an Airbnb — short-term lodging booked online, similar to Vrbo
and HomeAway — while handling all aspects of managing the property. Student interns
would, under his guidance, manage all facets of running the Airbnb as a business:
reservations, maintenance, cleaning, marketing, customer service. They would do it
And then the kicker: revenue generated from rentals would be funneled back into Illinois
Wesleyan’s DTE program.
“Students are getting great experiences in class, hearing about entrepreneurship and
starting businesses, but it’s not actually doing it. That’s a big difference,” Talluto
said. “We have some classes where students try to build a business, but building a
startup takes longer than four months, and I liked the challenge of creating a student-run
The concept of a business that quickly became known as “Wesleyan Manor” was born.
A plan was devised. Recruited students were given their charges.
The first assignment: find a house.
“When I learned it was going to be an Airbnb for students to run, I was so on board
with it,” said Flower Edington ’20, a DTE major and one of the first student interns
to work on the project. “When I heard that we were going to be in charge of finding
the house and coming up with what it would provide for guests, it was just so exciting
that we would be in charge of it all.”
The group did its homework. Student interns explored Bloomington-Normal real estate
listings and surveyed locations, conducted market research and examined Airbnb analytics.
The students eventually pitched to Talluto a historic home near both Illinois Wesleyan
and downtown Bloomington. He was sold.
But purchasing the property was just the first step. The home at 1007 East Jefferson
Street, once honored with the prestigious Gift to the Street Award by the Old House
Society of Bloomington-Normal, was in need of some attention. The house built just
seven years after the conclusion of the American Civil War required more than a few
upgrades and repairs to match its stately title.
“When I had the opportunity to visit the home before I signed on, I was just blown
away,” said Rowan Hanold ’20, this year’s student project manager. “But there was
definitely some work to be done.”
Students led the efforts. Getting the six-bedroom, five-bathroom home ready for guests
presented the group with a daunting to-do list. But, utilizing strengths of the group’s
individual members, tasks were slowly and methodically checked off. Flooring was replaced.
Walls were painted. Landscaping was revived.
“This internship was different because the students took initiative. We had ideas.
We had plans. We took care of everything,” said Mateo Grajales ’21, a business administration
and psychology double major who served a May Term internship last year. “It wasn’t
that we were given tasks or had to do everything we were told. If you wanted to improve
something, you did it.”
To make the space livable, the house needed beds and furniture. The kitchen needed
plates and bowls and utensils. The bathrooms needed soap and shampoo and towels. The
house needed some basic technology (televisions, WiFi) and some of the more advanced
variety (automatic locking doors, keypad entry).
After the exhaustive process of making the home functional, decorating it provided
a much-needed outlet for creativity. Students incorporated a piano and guitar into
a music-themed room, complete with a record player and selection of albums. Upstairs
is a game room with a dartboard and foosball table.
“They knew what needed to be done here more than I did,” Talluto said of the interns.
“They are constantly coming up with things to fix or ways to improve.”
By late 2019, the house was ready for its first guests.
The first to stay at Wesleyan Manor was a group of IWU soccer parents in town for
a game. A review posted to Airbnb by a member of the group included words like “fabulous”
and “sensational.” And the group enjoyed their stay enough that when the soccer team
held its end-of-the-year banquet a couple months later, it sought its lodging again
at Wesleyan Manor.
Other guests have had positive experiences and posted similar glowing reviews. But
the early success did not come without hard work, dutiful maintenance and a few emergency
There was the time a window broke upstairs. Another time the heat went out. Over winter
break, Hanold got a call from guests informing him the garbage disposal was broken.
Another time, a group of students courageously replaced a leaky toilet.
“It was something we had never done before,” Hanold said. “It was pretty gross, but
we ended up bonding over it, and we installed the new toilet and everything works
Those are precisely the challenges Talluto had envisioned students grappling with
as he hatched the idea to operate an Airbnb.
“I couldn’t even make up all the experiences these students have had,” he said. “Whether
they’re dealing with contractors or vendors, dealing with neighbors or customers,
dealing with Airbnb — all of those things — I think it’s been a tremendously valuable
experience for them.”
Word of Wesleyan Manor has spread through the Illinois Wesleyan community — and not
just among potential guests. Talluto has been contacted by friends and fellow alums
wanting to get involved in other ways. One returned to Bloomington-Normal last year
to help fix the roof and make some general repairs. Others have offered similar assistance.
An open house in February introduced more members of the IWU community to Wesleyan
Manor, and advance rentals are coming in every day. Commencement and Homecoming weekends
are booked, as are most weekends this spring and summer.
“It’s been great and by far exceeded my expectations,” Talluto said of the early success.
“We have bookings out for months in advance because people are looking at soccer tournaments,
volleyball tournaments, Commencement, Homecoming. We have dates booked out for the
next 10 months.”
Talluto has been pleased with the early returns and the support it will provide to
the DTE program (although many interns are DTE majors, internships are open to all
students). There has already been discussion about expanding the operation and potentially
managing more properties.
But, perhaps above all else, Talluto is pleased with the students he works alongside.
“Every time I work with students, I’m always impressed,” he said. “I give them guidance,
but they know what needs to get done. They’re on top of it. They’re ahead of it. They
take care of things before I even think of them.”
The students, though, are equally impressed by Talluto.
“Marc is probably the most interesting mentor I’ve ever had,” said Bailey McPherson
’19, one of the first student interns to work at Wesleyan Manor, who now works for
a Talluto-backed realty management firm in Chicago. “He’s one of those people who
likes to have you learn from your own mistakes, but he’ll also try to nudge you in
the right direction.”
Illinois Wesleyan students taking part in the Airbnb internship are getting experiences
extending far beyond the run-of-the-mill internships bemoaned by Talluto, wherein
eager learners are all too often assigned menial tasks like making copies or fetching
“I like to think that these are very unique experiences,” said Talluto, who doesn’t
hesitate to answer affirmatively when asked if he would have benefitted from such
an internship. “I don’t know how many universities have ongoing, operating businesses
that students themselves pretty much run on their own.”
Talluto, after all, comes from a family of educators. A strong belief in the power
of education has been firmly instilled in him. He has a special affinity for the kind
of hands-on, experiential learning that can be gained through working at a business
like Wesleyan Manor.
As someone passionate about education, he is increasingly motivated to share the knowledge
he has gained from a highly successful career.
And he does it with an eye toward the future.
“Learning and education have always been a strong part of my personal foundation,
so I see the university experience and ambition as ways to foster the next generation
of leaders,” Talluto said. “I’m hoping that, through this experience, other alumni
will see the University as a way to channel what they’ve learned over the years back
into the next generation.”