WSU’s New Innovation Hub Aims to Boost Entrepreneurship, Engagement
David Tarver is many things: a former telecom engineer with Bell Labs who left to start his own born-in-the-basement company that later sold for $30 million, author of the book “Proving Ground,” founder of the Urban Entrepreneurship Initiative, a University of Michigan professor, and all-around booster and mentor for Southeast Michigan’s startup ecosystem. In July, he took on a new title: senior counselor to Wayne State University’s provost in the areas of innovation and entrepreneurship.
As part of his new position, Tarver has spent the past four months overseeing the creation of Wayne State’s new Innovation Hub, which will work across campus to ensure that students, faculty, and staff have the resources and skills needed to “achieve career success, drive economic development, and improve their communities.” It’s not an organization or new bureaucracy, Tarver points out, but an initiative of the provost.
“The Innovation Hub will touch all innovation and entrepreneurship activities at the university,” Tarver explains. “The development of technology is proceeding so rapidly that in every discipline, we’re seeing disruption and the opportunity for new business processes and ideas. Even if they’re going to go work for someone, the business model will soon be upended, and we’re preparing students to innovate in that context.”
Some of the work being done under the Innovation Hub umbrella includes expanding entrepreneurship courses as well as programming at TechTown Detroit, the university-affiliated venture accelerator, and the Anderson Engineering Ventures Institute; refining the school’s technology transfer operation; and beefing up support to student-led startups and entrepreneurial projects.
“It’s an effort to coordinate work on campus and facilitate better results,” he says. “For students as well as faculty and staff, there’s a premium on getting work into the market faster. If you’re too slow, you miss the window. That’s why we’re streamlining how we form partnerships with industry and the community.”
As a result of stakeholder feedback, Tarver says Peter Falzon has been hired to spearhead the redesign of the technology transfer office’s processes. After researching what other universities do, Wayne State will likely move to a “foundation structure” to oversee tech transfer, he adds.
“The foundation would hold the university’s intellectual property assets and negotiate with industry [representatives],” Tarver says. “It’s a closely aligned non-profit that does work on Wayne State’s behalf.”
The Blackstone LaunchPad, a tool for engaging students and faculty interested in entrepreneurship, has been re-named Innovation Warriors and will continue to “help with whatever phase they’re in,” Tarver says. Two student teams—It Comes Naturally, making insect repellents from natural products, and ToDoolie, offering an “Uber for home improvement projects”—are finalists in next week’s Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition.
“The idea is to identify projects, inspire students, and support them through the development continuum,” Tarver says.
TechTown, he says, is “really buzzing,” and that work will also continue and grow. For example, Tarver says the DTX Launch accelerator program will expand to include high school students, and an introductory entrepreneurship course will be taught at TechTown instead of a traditional classroom to better connect the community at large to what’s going on at the university.
“We want to use TechTown as a conduit to bring more community activity into Wayne State,” Tarver says. “The event next week is a microcosm of what we’re trying to do on a large scale.”