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Earmarks support new Delaware startup incubators

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FinTech Innovation Hub University of Delaware STAR Campus incubator

The FinTech Innovation Hub on the University of Delaware STAR Campus will soon host a new incubator for fintech startups thanks to a federal earmark. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Among the $97 million in federal earmarks secured by Delaware’s delegation late last year is about $7.4 million to support the development or expansion of five incubator or accelerator programs around the state.

The programs would assist financial services technology firms, emerging bioscience companies, new farming operations and nonprofits looking to grow. Delaware’s federal delegation, including Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, lobbied support for the congressionally directed spending in the latest omnibus appropriations bill.

“We have to keep investing in the startups and in the ecosystem of innovation if we want to have sustained positive growth for Delaware for the next 20 years,” Coons told Delaware Business Times.

The recipients include the Delaware Innovation Space, the public-private entity that incubates promising bioscience and tech firms at the DuPont Experimental Station, which got almost $2.5 million for renovations and expansion of its site. The University of Delaware got $2.25 million to build the Coalition for Translational Entrepreneurship, which would help spinout science and tech advances at all of Delaware’s universities into new businesses, while Delaware State University got $866,000 to build a farm incubator that would allow agriscience students to work a real farm in their studies.

Meanwhile, Delaware Technology Park (DTP), a nonprofit research park in Newark, received $1 million to start the Center for Financial Inclusion and Technology Innovation, which will support about 10 fintech startups building products that assist underserved populations.

Mike Bowman, director of the Delaware Technology Park, has been working on opening a new fintech incubator on the STAR Campus. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

Michael Bowman, director of DTP, said the incubator and accelerator program would occupy a few thousand square feet in the new FinTech Innovation Hub on UD’s STAR Campus hopefully by the end of this year. Accepted incubator applicants would be provided office space and tech resources to grow, while accelerator participants would be more established and gain access to community banking partners who could help adopt their products and grow market share.

“Community banks don’t have the same talent or money as the big banks, but they have a big consortium and, in that way, we hope they can help support this in a sustaining way,” Bowman said.

DTP is using The Venture Center in Little Rock, Ark., as a model for the new center. Developed by Delawarean Wayne Miller, the center has become a leading national incubator in the fintech industry, and Miller, who has returned to the First State, has agreed to serve as a strategic advisor on the project, Bowman said.

It was a cold call from Miller about two years ago that convinced DTP to begin looking at fintech as a new chapter for the nonprofit advocate that has primarily helped incubate biopharmaceutical and material science companies, Bowman said.

With so many of the nation’s largest banks having sizable workforces in the Wilmington area, Bowman believes the incubator is primed for great success.

“We know the problems. We want to get working on the solutions,” he said.

Nonprofits are traditionally some of the most overlooked job creators in the economy, but their growth can serve their employees and their communities simultaneously.

A $866,000 federal grant secured by Delaware congressional delegation will help state nonprofits to grow through a new accelerator program run by the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement (DANA).

Sheila Bravo | PHOTO COURTESY OF DANA

Sheila Bravo, president and CEO of the DANA, said the program would provide training, resources, and tools to help them overcome challenges in running and growing their operations. While some of those obstacles may be financial, others may include board recruitment, leadership development or operational improvements.

“We saw, particularly with the pandemic, that some of the smaller nonprofits that do really great work in our state really are struggling to expand their capacity to be able to be responsive to the needs in the community,” she said. “This accelerator is designed to provide resources for smaller nonprofits that support marginalized communities so they can get that extra support that they need.”

While the program details are still being developed, Bravo said the support is designed to last two to three years after prior episodic support didn’t have the lasting effect that leaders wanted.

DANA hopes to launch the accelerator by the end of this year depending on how quickly the federal earmarks can be appropriated to assist with their planning, Bravo said.

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