New talk series aims to cultivate tech culture in Southern Delaware - Technical.ly Delaware

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Jul. 22, 2014 10:38 am

New talk series aims to cultivate tech culture in Southern Delaware

Rob Nicholson of Lewes is launching a tech panel. The message: Southern Delaware — the land of beaches, farms and small businesses — needs tech firms to survive. “We haven’t advanced as much as other communities because we’re focused on tourism,” he said.

Cape Henlopen. (Photo by Flickr user Adam Tuttle, used under a Creative Commons license)

Rob Nicholson lives for the intersection of technology and education.

By day, Nicholson, 34, works in business development at Inclind, a creative web design company in Georgetown, Del. When he’s not at work, the Delaware native (who moved backed to Lewes last year after spending time in the Navy, in San Diego and Mississippi) attends local meetings with entrepreneurs and business leaders.

His goal: To educate and inspire others to get on board with his proposed tech panel, which would specifically address the technology culture of Southern Delaware. He sees the panel as a more relaxed version of TED and Ignite talks.

“We haven’t advanced as much as other communities because we’re focused on tourism,” Nicholson told Technical.ly Delaware. “Brick-and-mortar buildings are what we understand down here,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson’s message — that Southern Delaware is not just beaches, farms and small businesses — is ripe for the sharing, he says.

He points to employers like Inclind and Selbyville’s E Revolution Ventures — which, this year, was named the seventh fastest-growing e-commerce company in the country by Internet Retailer Magazine — as examples of tech organizations that are having trouble finding qualified job candidates.

“We need better technology down here, better broadband,” Nicholson said. “Wilmington, and Austin, Texas and Asheville, North Carolina — they already have that ability for companies to walk in and they have a pool of talent they can easily hire from.

“There are pockets of people with interests and backgrounds in tech,” Nicholson added. “We have to come up with a plan to keep them here.”

But how?

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Nicholson says bringing more tech into Southern Delaware is about giving potential employees more options.

Too often, Delaware students are graduating from college and not returning to their hometowns because of a dearth of tech jobs in the state, Nicholson said.

“I’ve heard across the board in Sussex County that companies have a need for tech, social media and graphic designers. But it’s scary for people in D.C., Wilmington and Philadelphia,” Nicholson said. “If they move here and that one job doesn’t work out, they might have to move away. People are afraid to move and not have a backup.”

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In recent weeks, Nicholson has been meeting with various officials from Delaware Technical Community College, local groups and colleges and local chambers of commerce. Nicholson also visited a fundraiser and was introduced to the founder of Happy Harry’s and to Gov. Jack Markell. Another partner in bringing the tech panel to Southern Delaware is Peg Hertrich, a small business owner who has helped Nicholson connect with movers and shakers in the state, he said.

At the meetings, Nicholson has shared his vision for a more tech-savvy and tech-friendly Southern Delaware. So far, he says, he’s received a good amount of verbal support.

Nicholson said he hopes to host his first tech panel within a month or two at the DelTech campus in Georgetown.

“If the momentum continues, I can see it moving a lot faster, moving fairly quickly and it being a permanent fixture at DelTech,” he said.

At first, Nicholson plans to tack on the as yet unnamed tech panel immediately following an upcoming 1 Million Cups event, which is a weekly meeting held at 9 a.m. at DelTech’s Georgetown campus. (The Kauffman Foundation-funded program is held in dozens of cities across the country.) At these events, two entrepreneurs talk for six minutes each before fielding 20 minutes of questions from the audience.

Why? “Because lots of entrepreneurs have great ideas over cups of coffee,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson said he feels that adding the tech panel to an already existing event on campus will help draw in a larger crowd. He also said he believes amplifying the tech conversation in Southern Delaware will ultimately be a boon to the entire state.

“We can learn with each other, share with each other and build the state up,” Nicholson said. “Statewide, if we could cross pollinate our talent, we’d be building awareness and growing north to south.”

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