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Delaware’s Small Size Makes It Easy to Get Business Done

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Prelude Therapeutics is one of Delaware’s most prominent entrepreneurial success stories, growing from a startup to a publicly traded company in just a few years. | COURTESY OF PRELUDE THERAPEUTICS / BECCA MATHIAS

When Greg Plum decided to learn about the business and tech industry in Delaware, he started with a phone call.

“In Delaware, you are basically two phone calls or emails away from the person you need,” says Plum, chairman of Technology Forum of Delaware, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping the region’s technology business leaders acquire the knowledge, resources and connections needed to compete and succeed in a global economy. In Plum’s case, that one call led to introductions with people in the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance, Delaware Bioscience Association and the Tech Council. “[In a short time] I went from knowing nobody to really having a firm grasp of different influencers and different verticals ranging from data science to the fintech space.”

That’s a major strength of Delaware, says Irene Rombel, CEO and co-founder of BioCurie, a company developing AI-based software to aid in cell and gene therapy research. People are accessible, they are physically close and they are willing to share.

Rombel tells of how in one week, she met with colleagues to discuss innovation and manufacturing in Delaware, traveled to Dover to speak with legislators, and ran into her congressional representative at Costco on the weekend.

“I mean, where does that happen?” she says. “Delaware is small enough to really do things. I’m very confident and comfortable to email anyone here.”

Access is a selling point at the top of the list when trying to attract new business to Delaware, says Noah Olson, director of innovation for the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP). DPP is a public-private partnership and the state economic development agency for Delaware.

“It translates into policymakers understanding the challenges, the needs and the opportunities, and that helps inform better policy at the state and federal level as well as funding and investment decisions,” says Michael Fleming, president of the Delaware BioScience Association.

In a state that is only 96 miles long, no one is ever more than a couple of hours from anyone else. Delaware is definitely small, but well placed when it comes to business. Businesses have access to leaders and customers.

“I’ve had the chance to start a few companies — and I always return to Delaware as the place to do it,” says Patrick Callahan, head of data and analytics for LabWare, founder of CompassRed, board member of the Data Innovation Lab and the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, co-founder of AceCancer and a selfproclaimed cheerleader for doing business in Delaware.

Location, Location, Location

Location is important, especially for startups who need customers, says Callahan. Delaware’s close proximity to major corporations (e.g. JPMorgan Chase, DuPont, Incyte, etc.) and metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC can be a huge advantage for startups looking to get access to their customer base.

“This was exactly how we started The Archer Group,” says Callahan, referring to a Delaware-based advertising agency he co-founded in 2003. It grew to be the largest ad agency in Delaware before it was sold to Bounteous in 2020. “By being located in Delaware, we were able to tap into the resources and opportunities of larger customers and markets while still enjoying the benefits of a smaller, more manageable location.”

T. Ben Hsu, COO of Quest Pharmaceutical Services (QPS), agrees with Callahan’s assessment of the importance of location. “The major advantage of Delaware is its mid-Atlantic location, which situates well in the pharmaceutical and biotech belt from Massachusetts to North Carolina,” says Hsu. QPS started with three people in a small research space in Delaware in 1995. Today, it has more than 1,200 employees worldwide (including more than 300 in Delaware) and is a multinational company doing contract research focused on bioanalytics and clinical trials for drug development services.

Delaware’s spot in the country means it is within a quick drive to four major cities and more than 50 million people. It also offers easy access to airports, rail for shipping and travel, and a deep-water marine port.

Plus, Delaware is willing to share.

Collaboration: The Delaware Way

Rombel says one of the reasons her company is growing in Delaware is because of all the collaboration going on. Delaware is part of “Cellicon Valley,” so named for all the cell and gene therapy research going on in the region, she says. She is also part of NIIMBL, the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals — a public-private partnership whose mission is to accelerate biopharmaceutical innovation. (For more about NIIMBL, turn to page 40.) “That group has raised probably a billion dollars to further research and companies in biopharmaceuticals,” says Rombel.

Groups like DESCA, the Delaware BioScience Association and the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub are all examples of collaborative regional groups made up of professionals from different industries and companies working together for common goals. Even the universities in the state work together to share information and resources.

“When I talk to people from other states, they are always impressed with the collaboration,” says Fleming. “It is an asset to get information, guide and support businesses, and to get people answers quickly so they can make business decisions faster.”

That collaboration attracts talent, which also helps local businesses. Fleming used Prelude Therapeutics as an example. Founded in 2016 with a few employees and $5 million in seed funding, the clinicalstage biopharmaceutical company specializing in cancer therapies outgrew the research lab at the University of Delaware, moved to The Innovation Space down the road and still had to rent separate administrative offices.

Which brings up cost.

JPMorgan Chase announced recently that it would double down on its Delaware presence by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to local offices. | MOONLOOP PHOTOGRAPHY / JUSTIN HEYES

Delaware is Cheaper

Delaware is a bargain for businesses. Olson quotes a 2021 Forbes study naming Delaware the second most competitive state for business costs. Property taxes are low, the cost of labor is lower, and the tax structure is competitive. Delaware has a very low tax burden when it comes to small to mid-size (250 employees or less) manufacturing companies, he says.

“It’s just more cost-effective,” says Fleming.

Rombel says she and her co-founder, a professor at MIT, looked to build in the Boston and Philadelphia areas, but soon realized they could do more with their money in Delaware. Delaware doesn’t merely offer less expensive space, but also more availability.

“We have space and talent to fill those operations,” says Olson. Spaces like the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus and the Delaware Technology Park offer incubation and resource development space. The Innovation Space at the DuPont Experimental Station offers 100,000 feet of multi-use lab space. And the new space on the market, the Chestnut Run Innovation & Science Park (CRISP for short) contains 800,000 square feet of space. It hopes to become Delaware’s hub for companies working in life science, research, development and pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Delaware is a place where different groups can come together to build something new and different. It is full of innovation, says Plum. “The Mill is a prime example.”

The Mill offers flexible co-working office space. More than one company has found a partnership there while meeting at the water cooler. That business model continues to expand. The Mill has two locations already, and recently announced plans to open its first space in Sussex County, in Seaford.

Robert Herrera, co-founder of The Mill, is planning to redevelop the 21-acre Nylon Capital Shopping Center site, anchored by a Rite Aid and a Dollar Tree, into 250,000 square feet of floor space that can be used for higher education, retail and healthcare as well as co-work and incubation.

And, as Herrera told the Delaware Business Times in December 2022, the project came about in true Delaware fashion: “I had looked at this site for years, but I would have to say the governor personally talked me into it.”

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