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DSU gets federal funding for small business incubator

Katie Tabeling

Delaware State University | DBT PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

DOVER — Delaware State University is doubling down on its investment in downtown Dover as its Center for Urban Revitalization and Entrepreneurship received $1 million in federal government earmarks to build Kent County’s third incubator in the heart of the state capital.

Founded in 2018, DSU’s Center for Urban Revitalization and Entrepreneurship (CURE) leverages  the university’s talent and resources to help small businesses owners find their foothold. The $1 million will serve as seed money for the university to build a new facility on the corner of Division and New streets.

“We often talk about market value, and looking at the ecosystem of business startups, we believe we can be a thought leader in this,” DSU Dean of College of Business Michael Casson told the Delaware Business Times. “We’re committed to leveraging our programs and resources to offer training and business development for the downtown community.”

Casson told DBT it was too early to project the final cost for the facility, or the timeline for construction. He did note that DSU would be working with state and private funding partners, such as the Greater Kent Committee, to pay for the project.

The $1 million in funding was part of $97 million in funding obtained by U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, through the first federal earmarks in more than a decade. Since Democrats control Congress, the practice of earmarks, or discretionary spending on projects outside of competitively-bid processes, was re-established in this spending bill.

Once the project is completed, DSU will share the space with NCALL Delaware, a nonprofit that provides services in financial education and lending programs to low-income residents. The idea is to create a co-working space that can be flexible to offer business training and development courses accessible to both NCALL and DSU programs.

Back in 2019, NCALL shared a rendering of its proposed office with Delaware State University. | FILE PHOTO

NCALL previously announced the project back in 2019, with rough plans showing a three-story, multi-use building called Division Street Offices. At the time, NCALL planned to move the offices for Restoring Central Dover, an initiative targeted to revitalizing and planning central Dover, as well as community meetings.

The Longwood Foundation awarded NCALL a $400,000 grant three years ago for the development of the project, which will include space that is accessible to the community.

DSU already offers resources for local entrepreneurs through the Delaware Center for Enterprise Development, and runs a commercial kitchen incubator on its main campus. With the CURE building, this would mark the third in Kent county, including the Kent County Emerging Enterprise Development Center, which charges for office space.

DSU’s investment in the project signals a starting point of the university’s closer relationship with downtown Dover businesses and policy makers. The state’s only historically Black university acquired the former Wesley College on North Division Street last July, and has been focused on preparing dorms and classrooms for students for the new academic year. Stacy Downing, the DSU Downtown chief administrative officer, envisions the university playing a larger role in the state’s capital.

For his part, Casson believes that the new CURE facility and incubator will fit neatly with the university’s goal in giving people — and entrepreneurs — the tools for success. Earlier this year, the DSU College of Business received a two-year, $200,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration/University of Delaware’s Small Business Development Center to participate in the Community Navigator Program.

The Community Navigator Program is dedicated to providing early-stage businesses workshops and training sessions and one-on-one mentorship sessions. DSU’s support will focus those resources on downtown Dover businesses.

“We’re truly excited about this opportunity to bring an incubator to Kent County, as well as providing more services and sources for economic development in Dover,” Casson said. “We’re committed to working toward positive changes for minority businesses and help create an environment where they can thrive.”

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