(Photo by Tony Abraham)
Believe it or not, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) can relate to Delaware startups struggling with a lack of access to capital.
When the then-29-year-old Navy veteran was running for State Treasurer in 1977, his cash flow was at an all-time low. After wiping out his savings account ($10,000) on billboard ads before even securing the Democratic nomination for office, young Tom Carper was stuck.
"We've never been as good at this kind of thing as places like Silicon Valley. Part of it is not having enough mass."
“I had to quit my job in order to run. Now what do I do?” said Carper, recalling this particular vignette to a room full of entrepreneurs and technologists at 1313 Innovation during a visit to the coworking space last week. What did he do? Walked “neighborhoods and towns” across Delaware, asking for campaign donations door-to-door.
“I’d been in the race for about a week when there was a nice article in the News Journal about this 29-year-old guy, a Navy veteran, MBA, fresh face, looking for the nomination for State Treasurer because nobody wanted to run,” he said. The next day, Carper walked into a Dover bank and was handed a $5,000 loan.
That was 1977. Getting a bank loan doesn’t quite work like that in 2015.
After watching short introductory presentations from 1313 startups Carvertise, ConnectHub and Digital Vikings, the senator addressed some obstacles the state needs to hurdle in order to better nurture its fledgling startup community.
“One of the things we’ve not done is make sure there’s access to funding for startups, I think in part because we’ve never had to,” Carper said. “We’ve never been as good at this kind of thing as places like Silicon Valley. Part of it is not having enough mass.”
Mat Marshall, Carper’s New Castle County Deputy Director reminded the community to remain optimistic.
“As we get a critical mass, [Delaware] will become a more attractive place for investors to come,” Marshall said. He added that it’s important for local entrepreneurs to remain optimistic, citing the low cost of living and access to policy-makers.
“I certainly think there’s room to grow, and that will come as this sector continues to build out,” he said. “We do have competitive advantages over [other startup hubs]. I think that’s something we need to keep in mind and leverage.”
Near the end of his visit, Carper asked each member of the community in attendance to give him one idea for state legislators to consider.
Here’s the list:
- Write legislation that better embraces the startup community by creating more competition and less regulation.
- Help bring the University of Delaware to Wilmington.
- Improve the primary education system.
- Better publicize programs for high school students and international students looking to eventually launch their own businesses.
- Create simple incentives to keep people in Delaware (for example, luring businesses like Wegmans and Whole Foods).
“I think you’re on to something here,” said Carper as he closed out his visit. We do, too, senator. We do, too.
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