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Guest column: E3 seeks to find ‘Equitable’ opportunities for entrepreneurs

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By Stephen Sye and Renata B. Kowalczyk

It is easy to see the impact of COVID-19 and social unrest in our nation’s cities and it is just as easy to respond with empty platitudes. The difficult work lies in offering effective solutions and long-term remedies. The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation and Wilmington Alliance aim for the new E3 initiative to be one of those effective solutions.

Renata Kowalczyk, Wilmington Alliance

E3 stands for Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and will be powered by Wilmington-based Barclays US Consumer Bank, our anchor funder. It is a program designed to leverage the expertise and experience available in Delaware’s private and public sectors to grow opportunities for businesses and related employment. “Equitable” is a key component of E3. While our nation discusses and debates policing practices and race, we must not lose sight of the importance of increased business and employment – particularly for smaller employers, businesses, individuals of color, and all who live in underserved communities. We see the timeliness of the E3 equitable focus in statistics like the 25,000 Delaware small businesses impacted by COVID-19 and the nationwide 40% fall in working African-American business owners. Those numbers represent real business owners, employees, and families and highlight the importance of E3’s goal of leveling the playing field for access to resources.

Since the establishment of the Wilmington Alliance in July of 2019, we have put every aspect of our work in the city through the lens of equity and inclusion. Like the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, the Alliance views entrepreneurship as a key path to prosperity. We need to make this path more accessible and equitable for entrepreneurs.

The Foundation has an important role in the entrepreneurship element of E3, given our focus on maintaining the legacy of Governor du Pont by unleashing the state’s entrepreneurial spirit and furthering individual opportunity and initiative. Specifically, E3 complements the Foundation’s Reinventing Delaware program and draws on that program’s successes in seeking, nominating, and supporting Delaware’s “best ideas.” E3 will build on this process by establishing teams of organizations willing to step up as ecosystem partners to support ideas from conception to launch and beyond.

Stephen Sye, Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation

While the actual nature of individual E3 ecosystems will change over time and apply differently to different businesses and individuals, the overall goal is to implement a process that continually feeds entrepreneurs into pipelines that provide access to necessary resources and connections to accelerate the launch or growth of their businesses. Identified efforts/ideas/businesses will receive a comprehensive needs assessment and, if selected for full support, will receive a customized acceleration plan. Some may need to begin with coaching and guidance in business planning, marketing, and promotion. Once established milestones in those areas have been achieved, additional assistance in planning, acquiring, and employing the necessary information technology infrastructure as well as optimizing space planning (virtual offices, co-working space, or dedicated offices) would be provided. Finally, when appropriate, the E3 ecosystems will help increase access to funding opportunities.
The goal is to roll out E3 across Delaware, with the first ecosystem beginning in Wilmington this summer. The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation and Wilmington Alliance are proud to partner and lead this pilot project.

Wilmington Alliance has been working with the National League of Cities (NLC) on structuring an opportunity for Wilmington to join NLC’s Innovation Ecosystem Program in 2020. Ranging from rural townships, college towns to major metros, these cities have joined with more than 200 local partners and leveraged more than $100 million in regional and national resources to address local challenges. Examples of those commitment making cities include: Akron, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Providence, Roanoke, Syracuse, Washington DC, and others. The E3 Wilmington initiative is exactly the type of an entrepreneurial ecosystem building effort that would
give Wilmington access to regional and national resources and funding.

E3 will look at conceptual opportunities (ideas with potential that warrant additional research), development opportunities (ideas in place or where there is a strong market potential), existing business opportunities (where the initiative needs guidance to reach the next step), and expansion opportunities (where an existing initiative is ready to scale up) in order to help businesses at various stages. After E3’s pilot in Wilmington, we plan to expand the program and its benefits to Dover and a third city in Sussex County in 2020.

E3 is designed to provide opportunity for all. Critically, even businesses and opportunities that are not selected for specific E3 assistance should benefit from the networks, guidance, and involvement of various E3 partners.

We are proud to lead organizations that are committed to the vision that everyone, no matter what race or socioeconomic background, should have the opportunities and access to resources to create businesses and help economies grow for their communities. Anyone that is interested in supporting as a partner or a sponsor, please visit our website at www.petedupontfreedomfoundation.org/e3 or email [email protected].

Governor du Pont continually pushed for “ideas that break the mold,” held optimism in people as generators of these ideas, and viewed that prosperity for all comes when “individuals are encouraged to excel in a marketplace of choices.” E3 is designed to ensure that all individuals have opportunities and access to the resources needed to create businesses and drive economic growth in communities throughout Delaware.

Stephen Sye is executive director of The Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation and Renata B. Kowalczyk is CEO of the Wilmington Alliance.

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