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Federal $500K grant to aid startup development at UD

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The Economic Development Administration helped fund wet labs at the Delaware Technology Park at STAR campus five year ago. They have since helped grow more than a dozen companies, with new ones like Sepax working there today. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

NEWARK – The University of Delaware will receive five years of grant support from the federal Economic Development Administration to fund a program that assists startups seeking to successfully scale their operations, officials announced Friday.

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper talks with U.S. Commerce Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo and Delaware Technology Park CEO Michael Bowman during a tour Friday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) joined U.S. Commerce Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo on a tour of the Delaware Technology Park (DTP) at the university’s STAR Campus on Friday before announcing the new award of about $102,000 annually, totaling about $510,000 over the timeline. The funds come under the EDA’s University Centers program, which provides grants to universities and colleges to administer programs to leverage their assets, promote innovation and strengthen regional economies.

The DTP, a partnership between the University of Delaware, private sector, and state of Delaware, previously benefited from a $500,000 EDA grant in 2016 which helped it launch its wet lab incubator. Today, that incubator counts promising startups like RiKarbon and Foresee Pharmaceuticals among its tenants.

Twenty companies have participated in that program in the last five years, with half spinning out to their own space. In total, they have raised about $1 billion in collective financing and created 200 jobs, said J. Michael Bowman, president and CEO of DTP.

The new EDA funds will back the statewide expansion of the university’s Spin In program, which provides startups with teams of multidisciplinary undergraduate students charged with developing solutions to their real-world business challenges.

Among the successes of the Spin In program is Avkin, a 6-year-old company that manufactures wearable health care training devices. It worked with UD students from engineering, nursing, theater, business and marketing programs to initially develop product development solutions and market strategies for a simulated training device for tracheostomy care. Five more simulation training devices were developed in partnership with senior mechanical engineering students.

Carper touted the continued federal investment in the STAR Campus, which has repurposed nearly 300 acres from the shuttered Chrysler assembly plant to a campus focused on biotech, advanced material manufacturing and financial technology.

“One of the saddest days in my life in public office was the day that the bulldozers came and literally took down the Chrysler site,” he said. “We’re witnessing an amazing transformation of this place. We’ll have more people working here than ever worked at the Chrysler plant, and they’re good-paying jobs.”

Charlie Riordan, the vice president of research, scholarship and innovation at UD, talks about the future of the STAR Campus with U.S. Commerce Assistant Secretary for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo during a tour Friday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

With the future FinTech Center under development now, and scheduled to open early next year, UD is already looking at further opportunities for the campus. Charlie Riordan, the vice president of research, scholarship and innovation at UD, said one project being considered is a Good Manufacturing Practice center.

That would be a space for research in the manufacturing sector as well as workforce training and development around vaccines, therapeutics and biopharmaceuticals – a burgeoning industry in northern Delaware. While essentially a R&D and training facility, it would also be a fully functioning manufacturing plant that could pitch in to help scale production of vaccines or other drugs for clinical trials or in response to outbreaks, Riordan said.

The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), which operates out of the Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center on the STAR Campus, has advocated for such resources to better respond to future pandemics like COVID-19.

Castillo, who also met Friday with Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and officials from the Riverfront Development Corporation about the efforts to develop Riverfront East, as well as officials at the Delaware Innovation Space at the DuPont Experimental Station, applauded the efforts at the STAR Campus. She noted that part of the Biden administration’s proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation spending bill is $9 billion to fund Regional Technology Hubs to advance the nation’s technological expertise and grow new companies.

“As this happens, you are a point of excellence to replicate potentially across the country, because within technology and innovation, and more importantly for commercialization, I think this is where you’re shining the most,” she said.

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