It is the era of beginnings for Delaware’s technology community. But for all the starts, there also needs to be goal-setting and building.
That was the consensus among two-dozen community leaders during a roundtable discussion last Friday. Those entrepreneurs, technologists, economic development executives and service providers were in Wilmington for a Technical.ly Delaware stakeholder meeting.
"There are a lot more people in the room. Now we have to do something with what has come."
“This was the year of launches,” said Mona Parikh, the director of the state-backed entrepreneurship catalyst group Start It Up Delaware. For all the big stories in Delaware this year, 2014 may be remembered for its launch parties. Consider the following:
- The University of Delaware’s Horn Program for Entrepreneurship opened its Venture Development Center in February.
- Start It Up Delaware unveiled its freshly renovated coIN Loft coworking space in June.
- The 1313 Innovation incubator in the Hercules Building opened in June.
- Yes, we’ll add that Technical.ly Delaware launched in June too.
- In Rehoboth, coworking space Beach Desks launched.
- Early-stage investment firm Leading Edge Ventures launched in September.
“For me, it’s about what has happened over many years, not just the last year,” said Wes Garnett, an early Wilmington creative tech leader. “Over the last four years, from when we first launched [coworking space coIN Loft] to today, there are a lot more people in the room. Now we have to do something with what has come.”
That means greater collaboration among those who have taken over community-gathering leadership and business growth for those taking the entrepreneurship path, said Archer Group managing director Todd Miller.
Technical.ly Delaware brought together nearly 30 leaders for the meeting, held at the offices of 1313 Innovation. Those in attendance shared events they plan to host and goals they’ve set for a community that aims to cultivate talent, ideas and creative plans for Delaware.
"We can't just wait for investors. Let's get some better businesses and when they need the money, we can help."
More than just these existing tech community leaders, the discussion included people like Alfred Lance, a project manager with the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation. He saw 2014 as a key year for awareness of what is missing.
“Wilmington isn’t just a problem. It has to be the way Delaware is going to prepare for the future,” said Lance. His group launched a creative district plan this year that included tech corridor plans that mirrored a City of Wilmington plan.
For all the attention that Wilmington needs, any roadmap for Delaware tech’s future must also include connectivity to the University of Delaware campus, among other state imports of young creative talent. There are ample opportunities for that, said UD computer science student Nadia Kiamilev. She was among those behind DelHack, that school’s first student-run hackathon held in October, which she cited as an important moment for the students involved.
In 2014, many initiatives began for UD students, among others, to discover the local tech scene, but there’s a lot of work left to be done to make that last, said Stefanie Spatola, the assistant director at the Horn Program. Of the most influential goal, she asked: “How do we keep UD students in Delaware?”
The best way to do that will be to model a Delaware tech community that fits the entire state, rather than trying to recreate everything anew.
“Delaware tech should be inclusive,” said Patty Cannon, the business development manager at the state-wide Delaware Economic Development Office. Southern Delaware could be ripe for a vibrant agtech sector, and the state’s historical roots in the chemical and life sciences should result in natural ties to software and creative class retention. “We need to always be working to bring more people into the conversation,” Cannon said.
There are naturally differences in prioritization, however.
"We need to always be working to bring more people into the conversation."
Digital Vikings founder Kjell Hegstad and Tracy Shickel, a marketer who represents Delaware Technology Park, both say those in the room need to introduce outside investors to Delaware tech businesses.
“There are more good deals that need money to grow to the next level here than are getting done,” said Shickel, noting that nascent Leading Edge can’t be alone.
But Jon Brilliant, a Start It Up Delaware board member and frequent tech sector voice, pushed back, calling for better business execution that would attract that investment.
“We can’t just wait for investors,” he said. “Let’s get some better businesses and when they need the money, we can help.”
The busy conversation did land on at least one clear goal: introducing the entire state to the far more competitive, entrepreneurial-minded innovation climate taking hold nationwide and beyond.
“We should be a startup,” said Garnett. “Just do something, get something started and do it better.”