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Reinventing Delaware field winnowed to nine semifinalists

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WILMINGTON ““ More than 100 ideas intended to have a “bold impact” on Delaware have been winnowed down to nine by the board of the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, each vying for a chance to receive intensive support from two local organizations that excel at helping entrepreneurs turning their dreams into reality.

            The foundation’s Reinventing Delaware competition invites thought leaders and entrepreneurs to “submit a for-profit or social venture idea that will create jobs and help make Delaware a better place, to live, work, and raise a family,” according to its mission statement.

Left to right: Ben & There duPont congratulate Regis de Ramel of flyGATEWAY

            New Castle-based flyGATEWAY, which hopes to bring accelerated, affordable training for the next generation of high-paying aerospace careers, was selected by the attendees of a Reinventing Delaware dinner on Nov. 13 after they heard 18 pitches from entrepreneurs who were selected to explain their projects at the dinner and another 60 ideas that the attendees were asked to bring with them.

“I was thrilled to accept the Freedom Foundation’s Reinventing Delaware award on behalf of our team at flyGATEWAY Aviation Institute, especially since there were so many great ideas presented that evening by so many very worthy groups, said President Regis de Ramel. “My team and I are very excited to begin the process of working with Social Contract in further refining our business model since the need for more aviation jobs, especially pilot jobs, has become desperate.  The question is not if the jobs will come, but how can we ramp up faster here in Delaware, so we can deliver those jobs to a larger number of students.”

   The next phase of the journey is a two-hour scoping workshop with the idea owner and representatives from the University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship Program and Social Contract, a Wilmington-based organization tasked with “helping communities solve complex social problems, partnering with government, philanthropic, and community leaders who are invested in solving a specific social challenge, in a specific place.” Social Contract and UD Horn will recommend up to five from the group to move on to the next phase ““ six months of focused development that will be paid for by the Freedom Foundation. And the idea owners will get what Foundation Executive Director described as a “SWOT analysis on steroids ultimately leading to a focused implementation strategy.”

            In addition to flyGATEWAY, the other eight entrepreneurs ““ many of whom already have daytime jobs ““ selected to move on are:

  • Melanie Fitzgerald of Agilent, who wants to create a campaign to attract more movie and TV productions to Delaware.
  • Matthew Parks of Discover Bank, who wants to encourage donations of earned capital gains to be leveraged to provide equity to families seeking to improve their economic futures through small-business investment or purchase of a home.
  • James Massaquoi, whose 360VR company has created a software platform that uses 3D modeling to collect critical information about buildings that can be used for emergency response and planning and facility management.
  • Malcolm Coley, who hopes his IFL Gaming system will jumpstart and maintain economic development through the monetization of gaming tournaments, gaming arenas, and esports leagues. A critical component of this idea is also the opportunity to attract and expose future workforces to opportunities in science and technology careers.
  • Markevis Gideon, who recently appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” for his NERDiT NOW venture, which is trying to teach individuals from underserved neighborhoods how to become tech entrepreneurs through the use of retrofitted ambulances and unmanned kiosks to repair mobile devices and laptops.
  • Bill Freeborn from the Wilmington Land Bank, who wants to use modular construction to reinvent affordable housing construction in Delaware.
  • Sandee Drew, who wants to create a friendly competition among Delaware high school students to deliver maximum impact from their local community causes and put community engagement and work on a par with athletic achievement.
  • Adam Stager, who has created an automated service that uses UV-C light as a non-chemical alternative to pesticides for treating pathogens on strawberry farms.

            Ajit Matthew George went to the dinner last year with low expectations for how his Second Chances Farm ““ a vertical farm designed to decrease recidivism that is now hiring 30 people for its new facility in the Riverside neighborhood ““ would fare in the competition. 

            “The process was exceptionally rigorous, but Social Contract provided an in-depth review of every aspect of our idea,” said George, who ultimately won the competition. “It sharpened our focus. And at the beginning, there was no cash prize ““ it was for bragging rights.  But they surprised us with a check for $10,000 at the end.”

            Stephen Sye, executive director of the foundation, said the initial review committee saw a record number of submissions, with improved quality of submission and an increase in the number of for-profit submissions, due to what he said “is a greater understanding that for-profits can have a social component.”

            In fact, a few of the ideas selected by the board earlier this week came from attendees who brought new ideas to the dinner.

             “This is really about ideas that will have the greatest impact on Delaware,” Sye said when asked whether location or socio-economic status will play a role in the final decision.  “Any idea can come from any person.”

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