An Architect of Entrepreneurial Studies at Michigan Brings His Skills to U. of the Virgin Islands

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Timothy L. Faley
October 21, 2013

Name: Timothy L. Faley

Age: 57

New job: Professor of entrepreneurship and special assistant to the president for entrepreneurial initiatives, University of the Virgin Islands

Previous job: Managing director of the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, University of Michigan

Highest degrees: M.B.A. from Northwood University, M.S. and Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of Notre Dame

Until July, I was the managing director of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan. When I started that job in 2003 we were completely unranked and nobody knew we existed. Now the Princeton Review just ranked it the No. 1 graduate program in entrepreneurship. I feel pretty good about that.


One of the things I did in my job was monitor what other schools and colleges were doing with regard to entrepreneurship. So I would get on these listservs for employment opportunities to see which schools were expanding. This job teaching at the University of the Virgin Islands came through, and it was mid-February in Michigan, where you haven't seen the sun since November. I showed my wife the ad and said, "You know, this might be one we want to pursue."

Really, this job became possible by the generosity of Kiril Sokoloff, an investment strategist who made a significant gift to the University of the Virgin Islands to create an entrepreneurship center. And that gift was really driven by President David Hall's vision to encourage entrepreneurship not only across the curriculum at UVI but across the territory.

There are a lot of parallels between southeastern Michigan and here, in the Virgin Islands. Southeastern Michigan was dominated by a single industry, and so are the Virgin Islands. That industry here is tourism. But tourism experienced a tremendous decline during the Great Recession, and people are afraid that's not going to bounce back.

There's tremendous potential here. The high-speed Internet cable transmission that goes between North and South America goes right by the islands, so you have the highest-speed Internet capability of anywhere on the globe. If you're looking to build a global software company, this is a fabulous place to do it. In terms of green energy and green chemistry, it's a great place to be. You have constant trade winds for wind energy, you have constant sunshine for solar energy, you are surrounded by oceans where you could potentially grow algae for biofuels. The potential to be energy independent here is pretty awesome.

A lot of students, when they're 18 to 22 years old, they're not thinking, "Well, I'm going to start Microsoft someday," or "I'm going to start the next Google." They're just trying to get their first job under their belt and get some education. But what I tell them is that this is a skill set that's going to differentiate you your entire lives. Because no matter where you go and where you work, employers are going to want people who know how to identify new opportunities.

At the end of the day, I'm a builder. I like to build new things and create things and see the impact of what I've built. I was able to do that for 10 years at the Zell Lurie Institute because we were building and growing very rapidly over that decade. But once you establish yourself, that growth rate slows down. So I was looking for another opportunity that would give me a chance to be a builder again.

I'm looking at at least a 10-year effort here to build a world-class undergraduate entrepreneurship center at the university and have broad impact in the community as well. The fact that this job is in a fabulous and gorgeous place is a huge bonus, but it's not the main driver.

—As Told to Andy Thomason