(Photo courtesy of Mona Parikh)
Things are happening in Delaware but don’t assume the obvious.
That was one of the key takeaways from a meeting of 21 community leaders organized by Technical.ly Delaware this week. (The stakeholder meeting preceded Technical.ly’s Super Meetup, which drew over 100 attendees to the Hercules Building’s mercifully cool outdoor plaza.)
The obvious in Delaware is the looming bank towers that dot the Wilmington skyline. But trying to build a dynamic tech scene at their feet is a fool’s errand, most in the room agreed.
“The fear of big businesses working with small businesses has gone away in last five years,” said Nick Matarese of design agency The Barn Creative. But those lessened anxieties on the part of large corporates have not extended to the financial sector, which, for the most part, still relies on internal “resources” to get things done.
And therein lies the rub: Although the nation’s back- and middle-office financial functions are stashed in the First State, the folks calling the shots still reside in Manhattan. For example, at 500 people worldwide (300 of whom are based in Kennett Square), the highly regarded Chatham is on the small end of the spectrum when it comes to firms doing outside work for financial behemoths, Savery said.
In short: Don’t be fooled by their proximity; banks meaningfully supporting small startups may be a reach. And, as Technical.ly has witnessed in markets across the East Coast, it’s the plethora of smaller shops (some of which grow, some of which are acquired, some of which produce top-notch technical talent) that defines a bubbling tech ecosystem.
The good news, however, is that Delaware founders seem to get it. They’re building solutions for a wide variety of industries, and finding niches in which they can thrive.
Tech is the fastest growing sector among small firms in Delaware, according to Michelle Morin of the state’s Office of Supplier Diversity. Among the minority- and women-owned businesses she works with, her office has seen an 8.6 percent uptick in certification growth.
Finding a niche and owning it was well represented among the gathered stakeholders. Several in the room, from the husband-and-wife duo behind First Ascent Design to Short Order Production House founder Zach Phillips, said clients in Delaware are driving the vast majority of their sales. The ease of bumping into decision makers in Delaware remains a huge asset.
“Most of you have been victims to one of my introductions,” tech connector Mona Parikh joked. Indeed, the mafia of University of Delaware Horn Program in Entrepreneurship adjuncts was well represented. (And, as Delaware Center for Health Innovation Chair and UD adjunct Matt Swanson shared, entrepreneurship is permeating more than just the business school at UD. “In my time there, it’s gone from 90 percent business-school students to 50/50 in engineering or other schools,” he said.)
As the broader First State innovation community benefits from what Parikh described as “new energy,” the question remains: Where should leaders direct that energy?
If there was an answer offered at this week’s meeting, it was that there isn’t a single answer. That fintech or health IT or whichever one thing will never be the silver bullet. That a diversity of well-served niches in a world of ever-evolving needs is perfectly fine for a place like Delaware. Preferred, even.