Meet Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative Founder W. David Tarver

Born and raised in Flint, Michigan during the city’s manufacturing heyday, W. David Tarver understands the value of community vitality – and the profound impact of its loss. Following academic success at the University of Michigan, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering, David joined AT&T Bell Laboratories in New Jersey – then considered the world’s premiere telecommunications R&D company – where his contributions included developing groundbreaking systems for remote testing of communications networks and supervising the development of an imaging workstation and advanced telephone systems. 

David left Bell Labs in 1983 to start his own company – Telecom Analysis Systems. What began as a basement enterprise engaged in the design, manufacture and sale of advanced telecommunications test equipment grew to a business with over $10 million in sales in 1995. That same year, David engineered the sale of the company to London-based Bowthorpe (Spirent) plc to ensure future growth and stability, and to gain liquidity for himself, his co-founders, and key employees. He remained with Spirent for four years, and accomplishments during his tenure include identifying and negotiating key acquisitions that increased group sales from approximately $10M to over $250M and nearly tripled the company’s stock market value.

Given the financial freedom to pursue community service projects, David was serving on the board of a community organization in Red Bank, New Jersey, when he became acutely aware of poor academic performance on the part of local students.  After researching the matter and interviewing key community leaders, he started the nonprofit, Red Bank Education and Development Initiative to tackle the problem, and he ran the organization from 2000 to 2007 before ultimately transferring its assets and mission to the local YMCA. In its first four years, the percentage of Red Bank Public School students who passed the mandated New Jersey state performance assessment increased from 25% to more than 60%.

Returning to Michigan in 2007, David continued a variety of entrepreneurial and personal pursuits, publishing his autobiography, “Proving Ground: A Memoir” in 2012. Drawn to using entrepreneurship as an approach to addressing the issues of urban community residents, David launched the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative in 2014, organizing sold-out urban entrepreneurship symposiums in Ann Arbor, Flint and Detroit.

Around the same time, David returned to academia, teaching Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship Practicum courses at the University of Michigan and revising both courses to better reflect lean startup methodologies. He ultimately developed a new course, Urban Entrepreneurship Practicum, which he continues to teach. The course teaches students to analyze and develop business models for addressing urban community needs. While continuing his relationship with the University of Michigan – which awarded him the Distinguished Alumni Service Award, College of Engineering, in 2016 – David also took on a one-year assignment at Wayne State University from 2017 to 2018 as Senior Counselor to the Provost for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

David’s renewed focus on the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative stems from his academic experiences in entrepreneurship and innovation, the deeper challenges facing urban communities as revealed by the pandemic, and the explosion of technology tools that allow for the development of a robust platform geared specifically to the needs of urban innovators.

Learn more about David at – Change the world, and have fun doing it.