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Communities / Entrepreneurs stakeholders on the pros and cons of Delaware’s ‘small pond’

Before NET/WORK, a cross-section of Delaware stakeholders sat down to discuss the state of the local startup community. convened one of its regular stakeholder meetings ahead of NET/WORK Delaware 2018 at CSC. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

Before the NET/WORK job fair on March 8, our tri-annual Delaware Stakeholder Meeting brought together members of the state’s innovation community.

Reps from entities such as UD’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, IncNow, The Barn, NERDiT Now, Danio Diary, 1313 Innovation, InsiteHub, Delaware Innovation Ventures and more were there.

The topic, basically: Why Delaware?

Who stays in Delaware after high school and/or college, who moves to Delaware for opportunities and who leaves? How do you influence those decision as a business owner or support organization? How do you succeed despite them?

Aside from the appeal of what Delaware is not — the fact that it’s not New York City is a draw for some — Delaware’s size, tight-knit community and small-but-not-too-small urban center are some of its biggest assets.

Fazal Vandal, web developer for IncNow and New Jersey transplant, came to the state to attend University of Delaware, and stayed for the environment. “It’s not as big of a city as Philadelphia,” he said. “It’s a nice change of pace.”

“It’s got a charm,” said Austin Craig, incorporation consultant for IncNow, of the city of Wilmington, where the company has an office on Orange Street. “It’s good for people looking for a place where they can make their mark and grow.”

Or, as 1313 Innovation’s Lauren Spinelli put it, “You can be a big fish in small pond.”

When recruiting, The Barn Creative’s Nick Matarese looks for people who don’t want a big city. “There’s a market for a small city. And we’re close to Philly.”

Palina Ivanova, cofounder of the Revive clothing swap app and former UD entrepreneurial student, added, “[In Delaware,] your voice is actually heard.”

On the downside, Delaware’s small size can be a hindrance for startups when it comes to finding funding. John Royer of InsiteHub found it hard to find funding in Delaware beyond seed money. “If you’re just out of college, you might only need $25,000. Midlife entrepreneurs need more.”

There are a lot of wealthy people in the state,” said Pedro Moore of Delaware Innovation Ventures. But not many of them are tech moguls who can really guide startups in a meaningful way.

“We need sophisticated angels,” said Jennife Kmiec of Inspiring Women in STEM.

The number of startups in Delaware, though increasing, is another issue. “Delaware has never had the robust deal flow,” said Dan Freeman, director of UD’s Horn Program in Entrepreneurship. “In five years Horn has started to create a flow — but it’s not yet robust.”

“There’s no sales funnel for companies that need at least 10,000 customers,” said Rory Laitila, who runs Wilmington software development company itr8group.

Moore agreed: “Deal flow has to be there as a catalyst.” In terms of local investors, Moore doesn’t see a lack of major business investors in Delaware as a major issue. “Money shouldn’t just come from Delaware — that’s unrealistic. It should come from different sources.”

Whether the pros Wilmington for startups outweigh the cons is an ongoing question.

Want to join the conversation? Post a comment, tweet or email us. And if you’re a community member who doesn’t have a seat at the table for our stakeholder meetings but should, drop us a line at

Companies: The Barn / 1313 Innovation / University of Delaware

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