Delaware State University’s The Garage
Integrating science and business to create new solutions.
The Garage at Delaware State University (DSU) is becoming a one-stop shop for the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve society’s problems.
From workshops that teach maker kills to mentor-ing services and real tools and work benches, The Garage provides everything for the startup entrepreneur. The name pays homage to all the successful businesses in the country that started in somebody’s garage.
“We’ve had some great wins,” says Lillie L. Crawford, director of the Delaware Center for Enterprise Development within the College of Business at DSU, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). In addition to managing The Garage, the center also provides prospective entrepreneurs with access to capital and technical assistance, offers business training to youth and adults, and operates a commercial kitchen incubator.
In the past year, the Garage staff had a student develop a prototype device for medical use, worked with four current student business owners in clothing and real estate ventures, and helped four innovators develop a gaming software app, a medical device app and a photography app.
The Garage initially opened in 2020 and was almost immediately closed because of COVID-19.Since its relaunch in January 2021, it has served 545 students and faculty.
And that’s before the space has even opened to in-person participation from the community. DSU officials hope to welcome community members in the fall with a mix of programs, classes, competitions, seminars and workshops.
Not bad, considering the space was a glorified supply closet before The Garage moved in.
Today, the multi-room space is outfitted with 3D printers, 3D scanners, large scale printers, a laser cutter and virtual reality tech. There are large worktables in the center and tool tables on the perimeter. The walls and tables are made to be written on, there are screens available for projection and collaboration, and white boards that can be rolled from place to place.
Creating an Entrepreneurial Mindset
Putting The Garage together was like starting up a business, says Dwight Deloatch, a graduate student who helped create the space. There was a lot of trial and error in figuring out the right formula of products and services that would be needed, he says. That process is ongoing as new ideas and needs arise.
“We want to create an entrepreneurial mindset that students will be able to take into a workplace,” says Troy Farmer, director of The Garage. She hopes students will learn they have the option to create a job, rather than just get one. The Garage offers one-on-one business counseling, product development, marketing help and proof-of-concept validation.
The motto for The Garage is that it is for “students of problems, not disciplines,” meaning it’s open to all students, not just business majors, says Farmer. To encourage diverse population use, the staff of The Garage hosts coffee conversations with different entrepreneurs, panel discussions, lunch-and-learn events and hands-on maker sessions —like a December 2021 session making “bath bombs.” Students from several different disciplines joined members of the faculty, including the dean of the College of Business, for the hands-on lesson in how to produce the popular palm-sized fizzy balls made to be tossed into bathwater.
The idea was to get participants thinking about the integration of science and business, says Crawford. Everything needed for the project was supplied by The Garage.
“They were really into it, too,” says Farmer. “We walked them through the process of what would happen, the reaction of two components coming together and how much you would need of one particular product versus another. It was a lot of fun.”
Fun activities aside, the space is really thereto solve serious problems, says Farmer. The Garage bases its goals on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. One objective that students are working on now is the elimination of poverty. Toward that result, students in the business school meet remotely at The Garage once a week with students in Uganda. The DSU students and the Ugandan students are working on a plan to help poor farmers and women business owners in the east African nation. The Garage secured $310,000 in grants through the USDA, Uganda Global Entrepreneurial Ecosystem and Community Navigator programs for the collaboration. The Garage is already looking to expand.In the fall, it hopes to open the “Innovation Cafe,” an actual cafe run through the hospitality and tourism management program. The cafe will give the students running it real-world experience in everything from ordering supplies to managing schedules. It is expected to provide an atmosphere where new ideas are encouraged and creativity is celebrated.
Around the corner, in a hallway known as “Innovation Way,” a storeroom is being outfitted to become a studio where participants can learn how to make and produce podcasts.
In all this growth, The Garage is looking for more makerspace equipment: tools, printers, industrial sewing machines, modeling clay, building blocks. “We take donations,” says Farmer. She is also looking for people to mentor and coach the budding entrepreneurs — an activity that carries substantial benefit for the current generation of innovative business owners.
As Farmer puts it, “The core of your business is your people.”