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Launcher small business program to expand

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West End Neighborhood House Launcher program

Program director Kristin Bowen said that Launcher has assisted nearly 800 entrepreneurs in six years, including several present Wednesday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – Chris Boozer, founder of The Trash Porters, a startup waste management company that aims to serve high-rise apartment buildings and others with personal service, said he was still finding his way as an entrepreneur when he encountered the Launcher program.

“Learning from Launcher really helped me open up my focus to the opportunities out there. The other people in the program help give you that push on the back to keep going,” he said of the entrepreneurship program run by the Wilmington nonprofit West End Neighborhood House.

Started in 2017, Launcher is a 12-week program that helps entrepreneurs build business plans following foundational business operation lessons. After graduation, they are then supported by one-on-one support with program mentors.

To date, Launcher has graduated almost 800 entrepreneurs who have opened up almost 300 businesses and created almost 600 jobs statewide. What began as a program in inner city Wilmington has also grown statewide, with partnered programs running in Dover and Georgetown along with four New Castle County sites.

West End Neighborhood House Launcher program

New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer presents a check for $308,000 to help West End Neighborhood House expand its Launcher program. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

On Wednesday, Launcher got a boost when New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer announced a $308,000 grant to the program from the county’s federal American Rescue Plan Act funding. The grant will support the creation of three new cohorts in the Claymont, Bear and Route 9 communities, each strategically placed next to a county or state library.

It will push Launcher to nine total sites offering 17 cohorts a year, said Kristin Bowen, program director of Launcher, who said the program’s expansion was dependent on the “significant” infusion of funding from the county. The funding is expected to support 75 entrepreneurs by the end of 2024.

“We spend anywhere from $10 million in a down budget year to something like $25 million to $30 million in attracting companies to Delaware in an average year. What would that mean to these entrepreneurs if we could invest at that level in these small businesses,” Meyer said of the grant. “Even if just three of them succeed and thrive, and end up hiring 10, 20 or 30 people, that $308,000 will be some of the best economic development investment we’ve ever made.”

The county funding will also specifically offer a program in New Castle County taught in Spanish, lending additional assistance to Delaware’s growing Hispanic population.

“We want to make sure that they’re getting the same tools everybody else has to build and grow their business,” Meyer said.

The grant was announced during Launcher’s weekly farmer’s market that is held in Cool Springs Park near Wilmington’s city center. About a dozen vendors offering food, artisan products and personal services – most of them Launcher grads – populate the park through the spring, summer and fall.

Bowen said it was evidence of the community that Launcher has created among entrepreneurs as they grow to know each other despite sometimes going through the program years apart.

“We tell our entrepreneurs that they’re lifers with us,” she said. “We’ve all grown up together in this one big happy family.”

The application window for Launcher’s spring cohort that begins in February is currently open at launcherde.org.

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