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‘Swim with the Sharks’ finalists announced

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The 2020 Swim with the Sharks pitch competition was taped early so that it could be broadcast Oct. 20 on DETV. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE EEC

WILMINGTON – The eighth annual Swim with the Sharks pitch competition hosted by the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce’s Emerging Enterprise Center (EEC) has named its three finalists ahead of the Oct. 20 presentation.

The three final contestants competing for a $10,000 grant provided by the New Castle County Office of Economic Development’s NCC Innovates initiative and services and prizes to help them launch and grow their business are Adam Stager, founder of TRIC Robotics; Ajit George, founder of Second Chances Farm; and Eric Gottlieb, CEO and co-founder of Lignolix.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still challenging the organizing of a traditionally large gathering like the “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition and its preceding Entrepreneurial Summit, the EEC is taking a different route this year that will also broaden its reach. The three pitches will be aired at 7:30 p.m. on DETV, the Wilmington-based Comcast cable channel 28 and 190, and broadcast on the EEC’s Facebook page.

“We’re going to do some camera magic. The pitches are all pre-recorded, but we still wanted to get the audience participation so viewers will still be able to text in their vote,” said Alysse Bortolotto, program manager for the EEC, noting that public voting accounts for about a quarter of the judging. “We won’t know who wins until the public weighs in.”

Also serving on the judging panel this year is Gable Music Ventures Co-Founder Gayle Dillman, who produces the country’s largest women’s music festival, Ladybug Festival; Bob Beichner, the county chamber’s director of economic development and business incubation; and The Frozen Farmer co-owner Katey Evans, who found success on ABC’s “Shark Tank” last year and will serve as the keynote speaker.

The three finalists emerged from a field of 14 semifinalists who pitched their ideas virtually this summer, Bortolotto said. Both Second Chances Farm and Lignolix were semifinalists last year. Although the competition is hosted by a New Castle County chamber entity, Bortolotto noted that it is open to any company in Delaware that was founded in the last five years.

Second Chances Farm is a Wilmington-based vertical farming operation that grows greens and herbs hydroponically and relies upon workers who have left incarceration. It won the prestigious Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation Reinventing Delaware Award in 2018 and has garnered increasing attention from the Trump administration for its usage of the Opportunity Zone investment program. George, its founder and managing partner, recently announced an expansion into Philadelphia to get underway next year with a development partner.

Lignolix is a Newark-based chemical engineering company that is focused on improving plant-based alternatives to petroleum-based chemicals. After years of research at the University of Delaware, the company found a new way to chemically break down lignin, an organic polymer in certain plants, without the dangerous and expensive processes previously used. It also has garnered attention through winning the 2019 University of Delaware FastPass Competition and earning a state EDGE grant.

TRIC Robotics is a Newark-based robotics company that is developing a robot to aid in the cultivation of crops without pesticides. The robot described as “a Roomba for the field” is being piloted on two farms in Delaware and one in West Virginia. It autonomously performs weeding and pathogen treatments at night using UV light while collecting data to inform a farmer of plant health and productivity.

Preceding the day’s big finale will be the EEC’s third annual Entrepreneurial Summit, which will be hosted virtually this year from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 20.

This year’s theme is “Pivoting through the Pandemic,” with interactive workshops that will focus on the issues businesses are facing in COVID-19 crisis. Participants will learn from leading innovators and entrepreneurs how to secure venture capital, crowdfund in uncertain times and leverage the power of storytelling to gain national publicity.

The keynote speaker is Richard Vague, Pennsylvania’s acting secretary of banking and securities and managing partner of an early stage venture capital fund, Gabriel Investments. The closing keynote speaker is U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who was one of the earliest supporters of establishing the EEC incubator.

To learn more and register, visit www.eecincubator.com/entrepreneurial-summit. Use promo code DESUMMIT2020 to receive 25% off registration.

By Jacob Owens

[email protected]

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