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Wilmington, E3 join national program to support entrepreneurs

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WILMINGTON – Three months after a coalition of nonprofits formed the Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem (E3) Wilmington to support the development of new entrepreneurs, the city has signed a public commitment with them in the National League of Cities’ City Innovation Ecosystems program.

The Sept. 18 commitment allows Wilmington to tap into technical assistance from nationally recognized program experts and share in resource development with other cities that have made the pledge. In the program’s inaugural year in 2019, 50 cities made the commitment, including Austin, Baltimore, Charlotte, Hartford, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Tampa, and Washington, D.C., among others.

“Wilmington is an innovative and creative city because our residents and businesses are committed to working together to ensure our city’s growth and to spread prosperity to all who live and work in the First City of the First State,” Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki said in a statement announcing the city’s pledge. “We accept the challenge offered by the City Innovation Ecosystems program to create the right policies, programs, and practices to ensure that our community can thrive in the global, innovation-driven economy, and we are ready to do the work to bring informal entrepreneurs into the formal economy and provide them with the resources to grow their businesses.”

Stephen Sye

Stephen Sye, executive director of the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation that joined with the Wilmington Alliance to form E3 Wilmington, called the commitment “a big deal.”

“The premise behind E3 is to identify and build a city-wide coalition of partners that all offer expertise in a particular bucket area across an entrepreneur’s lifecycle,” he explained, noting that included access to funding, coaching, business planning, marketing, and access to IT, infrastructure and space.

E3 Wilmington has the backing of city-based Barclays Bank U.S. Consumer Bank, which will allow qualified budding entrepreneurs an in-road to funding opportunities through the program, which is targeting part of its focus on Black and Brown entrepreneurs in under-represented communities.

The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit tasked with development of innovative economic and policy ideas in Delaware, and the Wilmington Alliance, a nonprofit tasked with growing economic opportunity in the city, had been discussing how the organizations could collaborate before the pandemic hit, Sye said. Those discussions between Sye and Wilmington Alliance CEO Renata Kowalczyk slowed as the crisis unfurled but picked up again as they began talking again about how to support entrepreneurs who were affected by the pandemic’s restrictions.

E3 Wilmington was designed with the National League of Cities program in mind, but Sye said that their work would have progressed even without it. He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected 25,000 Delaware small businesses and caused 40% of Black business owners to close up shop nationwide.

With E3 Wilmington beginning to work in the community, the partners have set their sights on the rest of the state as well. The city of Dover is in the early stages of its E3 model, which will likely leverage Wilmington’s template, Sye said. Meanwhile, conversations are beginning in Sussex County to identify a city and lead partners to form an E3 there.

“We want to design it from the ground floor up,” Sye explained. “We’ll be looking to develop an advisory board at the state level, probably a subcommittee at the county level and then lead committees at the city level.”

With the outreach work to entrepreneurs looking for help amid the economic crisis progressing, Sye said the commitment by Wilmington to the City Innovation Ecosystems program is well-timed. He also believes it could help get Delaware’s model onto the radar of others, potentially broadening the reach of the E3 model to a national audience.

“Who knows, it could have some legs,” he said.

By Jacob Owens

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