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Startup 302 contest focuses on underrepresented companies

Katie Tabeling

WILMINGTON – After some delay, the Delaware funding competition Startup 302 is forging on this year with a focus on minority and women-owned startup companies.

“As Delaware builds up its innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, it’s important to keep our mind on equity and inclusion, especially when you consider the statistics on how they’ve grown,” said Noah Olson, innovation support manager for the state’s economic development agency, Delaware Prosperity Partnership, which is leading the competition.

The Startup 302 competition offers $260,000 in grant-based prizes to technology-enabled or scientific-based startups that have at least one Black, Latino, Native American, or woman owners.

“If you look at the data on population percentages, you see that the Black and Latinx population make up around 20% in each demographic. But Black business leaders receive 1% of venture capital out there, and Latinx entrepreneurs see less than 1%,” Olson said.

Startup 302 was envisioned to bring early-stage companies across the world to the First State for the inaugural neoFest, an entrepreneurial summit organized by the Horn Entrepreneurship program at the University of Delaware and DPP.

While neoFest, which was to be held at the Chase Center at the Wilmington Riverfront in May 2020, was postponed until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, DPP decided to refocus on the contest with a more local and equitable focus.

Other Startup 302 partners include UD’s Horn program, and Small Business Development Center, Delaware State University’s College of Business, First Founders leader Garry Johnson III, venture capital advisor Pedro Moore, and the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance.

The competition is open to early-stage startups with no institutional investment, based in Delaware or doing most of their business in the state. Olson pointed out that the top pool of prizes at $150,000 is reserved for businesses based in Delaware or “willing to locate” in the state.

There are no limits on the length of time the business has been in operation or on previous funding, but the focus of the competition is early-stage startups. Startups may be from any industry, but those that focus on financial services, bioscience, agriculture and business services are encouraged to apply.

Startup302’s application window is open through Feb. 22. The competition includes two rounds: an interview in mid-March and a virtual pitch round on April 29.

While debuting at the neoFest would have provided key networking and workshop opportunities to competitors, Olson said that DPP and its partners were working on a plan to connect applicants with Delaware leaders.

“There’s nothing on the books yet, but that networking is part of the goal. We’ll make sure each applicant is connected to the resources we have available to tap into the market as well as network with judges and sponsors potentially during deliberations,” he said.

For more information about Startup 302 and competition guidelines, visit startup302.org.

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