David Tarver grew up in Flint, Michigan. He left after graduating with an engineering degree from the University of Michigan to pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions. After a successful career at AT&T Bell Labs in New Jersey, Tarver went on to start Telecom Analysis Systems (TAS) in his basement with colleagues Steve Moore and Charles Simmons. In 1995, he engineered the sale of TAS to Bowthorpe (now Spirent) plc for $30 million.
Years later, Tarver found himself back in Michigan inspired to start a movement around urban entrepreneurship. Returning to his hometown he saw the economic decline and urban issues Flint faced. This was before the Flint water crisis. Tarver began percolating ideas for inspiring more entrepreneurs to solve problems in urban areas, to spark a movement around Urban Entrepreneurship.
He founded the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative to spread awareness and generate more conversations for solving urban problems. Tarver also designed and is teaching a new course on Urban Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan.
“We ask our entrepreneurs in class, why did this water crisis happen? How did this happen?” he said. “The fundamental issue in Flint’s crisis was the lack of knowledge and awareness of the contamination of the water. How could we solve that problem?”
Urban Entrepreneurship is the concept of forming for-profit companies that solve problems around urban living. Uber and Shot Spotter are prominent examples of companies that fit this definition. With the millennial generation moving more and more to cities, Tarver may be inspiring the next big companies. For Flint in particular, Tarver pointed out ideas for innovations, such as better water filters, better monitoring of infrastructure or tackling problems in insurance and serving businesses now affected by the crisis.
“Could we have a water analyzer to let people know what’s in their water?” he asked. “That could be sold all over the world, even to communities that are not suffering from this particular problem. If you’re helping someone to address an important problem in their community, you’re adding real value.”
Urban Entrepreneurship as a program and mindset looks at a community as a system. Tarver often describes it as finding a community you want to serve, identifying a problem and applying design methodologies and technology to innovate a solution. In cases like Flint, entrepreneurs could solve a dire problem and scale it to other cities before infrastructure, lack of awareness, or poor water damages another community.
The Urban Entrepreneurship course Tarver designed is expanding from University of Michigan to other institutions, including Detroit’s Wayne State University. The Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative is expanding, too, after recently received designation as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit.
“Urban Entrepreneurship is definitely a movement that’s gaining momentum,” Tarver said.