[caption id="attachment_206302" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer tries the virtual reality meeting space during a Nov. 21, 2020, visit to the Delaware Data Innovation Lab. | PHOTO COURTESY OF NCC[/caption]
WILMINGTON – The Delaware Data Innovation Lab (DDIL), which was created amid the COVID-19 pandemic and recently merged with the nonprofit Tech Impact, has received a $3 million grant from the state’s allotment of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
[caption id="attachment_207174" align="alignright" width="200"] Pat Callihan | PHOTO COURTESY OF TECH IMPACT[/caption]
The grant will support the operation of the tech-intensive lab for three years, allocating $1 million per year, according to Patrick Callihan, the CEO of Tech Impact. It will support the hiring of annual fellows who will focus on projects that serve the community.
Originally launched by CompassRed founder Patrick Callahan, the DDIL was akin to the MIT Media Lab, a research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where they could make “a lasting impact and apply innovative thinking to real world problems where failure is embraced along with success.”
The lab is already working on projects with the Delaware State Housing Authority, where it will try to determine if mortgage assistance is reaching the right communities; the Delaware Health Information Network (DHIN), where it is building out a community well-being index, and the state Department of Education, where it’s working on early childhood initiatives.
It was launched with the support of $2 million from New Castle County’s federal CARES Act funds, but merged after about a year with Tech Impact, the national IT workforce training and nonprofit support organization, to lessen its need to consistently raise funds. Callihan told Delaware Business Times that Tech Impact approached the state about supporting the DDIL through its APRA funds.
“We pitched it as a way to continue working with the state agencies while also building out some workforce development around data science for the state,” he said.
Unique to the ARPA funding is the goal for the DDIL to place fellows in roles with Delaware companies following the completion of their fellowships.
“While providing services to the state in terms of data analytics and building out data plans and strategy, we also see the result of this as increasing the workforce in the state around this discipline,” Callihan explained. “At Tech Impact, we already have other workforce development programs, and we have a lot of partners that we work with as part of the IT Industry Council. Data analytics and data science is one of those growing areas that really needs more resources.”
Tech Impact is actively recruiting new fellows for its next cohort to start in June, and Callihan said they are mining the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, and Wilmington University, as well as some of Wilmington’s tech boot camp programs, for data scientists with master's degrees or PhDs, in addition to data experts and storytellers to support them including data engineers, data visualization developers, and virtual reality engineers. They are also recruiting outside of the state as the DDIL has been able to attract graduate and post-doc students from around the country in the past.
The $1 million a year will not fulfill all of the DDIL’s necessary funding, but it provides “some runway to really develop a sustainable business model,” Callihan said, noting they are also looking at potential earned revenue streams, as well.
In a statement announcing the grant, Delaware Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Karryl Hubbard said, “We recognize the growing importance of data analysis in helping to interpret solutions to improve employment and economic outcomes for the state, employers and employees.”
An example of how the Data Innovation Lab supported Delaware agencies by leveraging data is a recent collaboration with the DHIN.
“Delaware Health Information Network worked closely with the Data Lab to develop interactive reports to assist care providers, researchers, and lawmakers with identifying the burden of disease in communities statewide,” Richard Schroder, director of data analytics at DHIN, said in a statement. “Using innovative census tract logic, the Data Lab team was an invaluable partner in both developing and promoting the reports, which support the State’s efforts to provide effective health and social care programs within underserved communities.”
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