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It’s Easy to Connect Here

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In Delaware, policymakers, high-profile entrepreneurs and top-notch researchers are just a phone call away

As a place for doing business, Delaware’s “enormous benefit” is that it is … small.

Bob Perkins

So says Bob Perkins, executive director of the Delaware Business Roundtable, a collaboration of the state’s most influential leaders in the private sector.

Small can sometimes be a problem, Perkins admits, like when it comes to matching the economic incentives other states can offer to attract new businesses.

But small also means personal, and that’s evident in Delawareans’ ability to chat up their U.S. senators in the checkout line at the supermarket. “That sort of thing doesn’t happen in bigger states,” Perkins says.

Michael Quaranta

The easy, collaborative atmosphere in the First State is often referred to as the “Delaware Way.” For those doing business here, it means the process is “speedy and collaborative,” says Michael Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. “The goal is to gather decision makers together and find ways to resolve questions that businesses that want to land here might have.”   

One major new effort to harness Delaware’s spirit of collaboration is the Science & Tech Advisors, a group convened by the state’s economic development agency, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP). 

The group’s 32 members represent all the big growth sectors of Dela-ware’s innovation economy — including bioscience, health care, chemistry, agribusiness and more — as well as the major research universities. After their first meeting early last year, the advisors broke into three groups to study the needs of startups, mid-tier and large corporations in Delaware. Their goal: to find where the gaps are and create a roadmap for what can be initiated. State government is going to look to the group’s findings for what Delaware can do to make itself even more attractive to companies at every stage of growth. 

‘Things Can Get Done Here’

Michael Fleming | PHOTO COURTESY OF DELAWARE BIO

“Delaware is unique. Things can get done here because of our size and personal relationships,” says Michael Fleming, president of the Delaware BioScience Association. “Connections can be made very quickly. It’s a competitive advantage.”

Just ask Jeff Fetterman, who learned a lot about leadership and the pharma-ceutical industry during his 18 years at the DuPont Co., but not quite enough to strike out on his own.

“When I left DuPont [in 1999], I found myself making literally hundreds of phone calls, asking for guidance, how to do a startup, plus legal and financial questions. My last question was always ‘Who else
do you think I should speak with?’ and I was astonished how many people were willing to give advice,” he says.

That advice enabled him to launch and sell two companies, and now he’s consulting, leading a private equity firm and volunteering to share the business skills he learned along the way.

Jennifer Kmiec

“There is a clear effort by the business, civic and academic communities to genuinely support entrepreneurs and innovators,” he says.

Jennifer Kmiec, executive director of the Committee of 100, a nonprofit organization of business leaders, primarily in construction-related industries, is accustomed to offering such support. “I recently had a half-hour conversation with someone interested in starting a business,” she says. “In that time, I gave him the names of 10 people he ought to talk to.”

For individuals, building those connections can occur in several ways. For Fetterman and the nascent entrepreneur who spoke with Kmiec, it meant making lots of phone calls, setting up one-on-one meetings.

Connecting Entrepreneurs Across Generations

With the emergence of organizations like the Delaware BioScience Association, the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance (DESCA) and others that relate to specific business sectors, opportunities for establishing new relationships in group settings continue to grow.

The Business Roundtable, Perkins notes, has created a new membership group to help young entrepreneurs like Mac Macleod, the CEO of Carvertise, an innovative firm that turns cars into mobile billboards, establish links with CEOs of larger firms. “Delaware is the rare place that welcomes newcomers with open arms and finds ways to elevate new ideas, rather than stifle them. Much of Carvertise’s growth is due to local individuals who helped show us the way,” Macleod says. 

With so many family-owned businesses in the construction industry, membership in groups like the Committee of 100 can promote intergenerational bonding, Kmiec says. “Our members bring their younger associates to our meetings, so they can make introductions that become lasting connections.”

Not only does Delaware being small help those starting out make their connections, but smallness can also help bring the big pieces together.

Dora Cheatham

One example is DESCA, founded in 2010 with initial funding from AstraZeneca and the state government. “We realized we had a lot of companies in the sustainable [chemicals] area and a lot of innovation at UD, but a lack of connectivity between the two,” says Dora Cheatham, the organization’s executive director.

The idea behind the alliance, she explains, is to connect the researchers — whether they’re at UD or working in labs at an incubator — with the investors and larger companies who want to help these innovators succeed.

“When you’re working with startups, a lot of them are introverts. [Networking with investors] is outside their comfort zone,” she says. “We help them understand that the things that are important to a researcher are not as important to an investor.”

There are a lot of interconnections within the state’s science and technology sector. Some businesses belong to both DESCA and the Delaware BioScience Association, and both groups have a keen interest in developments at the state’s primary tech incubators — Delaware Innovation Space and UD’s Delaware Technology Park.

One reason these interrelationships have grown, Cheatham says, has been the “fracturing” of the state’s chemical legacy businesses — with Hercules, then DuPont, then AstraZeneca, downsizing, splintering and spinning off their R&D arms, leading them to look to startups for promising products that might be added to their own portfolios.

“It’s very easy to connect here,” Cheatham says. “In two to three years, it’s easy to embed yourself within the ecosystem. If you don’t know someone, you soon will find someone who does.”   

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