Delaware, some say, is set to become the “next Silicon Valley” — stay with us — and thanks to an increase in remote work, a lower-than-average cost of living and average internet speeds that have been found to be 48% faster than the rest of the country, the state is becoming even more attractive to entrepreneurs.
That may be true, but just like with the Delaware fintech boom, if you don’t know where to look — i.e. the banking sector rather than scrappy startups — it might look like not a lot is happening. Delaware is its own kind of STEM and business hub that’s just different from other markets. App makers, for instance, will probably never in our time become bigger than manufacturing.
And manufacturing in Delaware is very much a STEM field.
Manufacturing is the state’s second-largest traded sector, after agriculture (which includes another often-overlooked sector of the tech industry), boasting 44,000 jobs with an average salary of $60,000. Delaware is the home of DuPont, Gore and AstraZeneca. And manufacturing is much more than making widgets: It includes research and invention and innovation in industries such as chemicals, advanced materials and bioscience.
Take, for example, Adesis, a contract manufacturing company born in a predecessor form in 1991 in a 2,500-square-foot facility in Newport. It’s grown quite a bit over its nearly 30 years of existence, with its number of employees nearly tripling from 46 to 127 in just the last five years.
Adesis got its name in 2005 when it was officially formed, five years after moving to its current HQ in New Castle.
“At that point, we were less than 20 employees,” Adesis President Andrew Cottone told Technical.ly. “Over the next decade we grew some of our capabilities” as well as the employee count.
In the summer of 2016, one of the company’s best clients, Universal Display Corporation (UDC), decided to acquire Adesis.
“We had started working with Adesis about five years before we acquired them,” said Darice Liu of UDC. “By the time we acquired them, about half of their chemists were working on projects for us, so from a process chemistry standpoint it made a lot of sense for us to bring them in house. Since then, both the parent and subsidiary has grown very nicely.”
That’s why today, Adesis has 127 employees and two sites — the New Castle location, which has expanded from 25,000 square feet to 50,000 square feet in recent years, and the Delaware Innovation Space.
“That is working out great for us because the ‘R’ of the R&D [research and development] happens at the Innovation Space, and then we take our manufacturing and scale-up work, the ‘D’ of the R&D, over to New Castle, so it’s a great synergy,” Cottone said.
As a subsidiary of UDC, one of the main products Adesis manufactures is OLED, or organic light-emitting diode.
“OLED is a display technology — if you have an Apple watch, if you have a Samsung smartphone, they all use OLED technology on their displays,” Lui said. “One of the key aspects is that OLEDs are inherently bendable, conformable and rollable. The foldable displays you may have seen on TV, that is all due to OLED technology.”
Adesis has continued to contract with other clients as well.
“Venture capital is saying, ‘Don’t fund brick-and-mortar labs, find a reliable partner who can accelerate your science, your chemistry.’ That’s what Adesis does,” said Cottone. “That’s why contract research is important for society as a whole, because we can accelerate products to market, and it’s also important for our states’ economy, because we’re creating jobs and are seeding our manufacturing with new research and development ideas.”
The Delaware location is a natural fit for Adesis, Cottone said.
“Delaware moves at the speed of an entrepreneur,” he said. “You have the high concentration of talent. You have a real partnership with private industry and also the government.”
Adesis recruiting is often global, because many of its positions require advanced degrees in science. But the talent pool in Delaware and the nearby region is strong, too.
“It has a great density of scientific degrees and talent, so recruiting is easier, and it’s easy to get and keep people here with the cost of living, and all of the culture,” Cottone said. “There are people at Adesis who went to Wilmington University or Delaware State University and, of course, University of Delaware.”
All in all, the company’s 127 employees come from 30 countries. Adesis is also a founding member of Intern Delaware, and has had five interns this year.
“If you look at our previous interns through Drexel [University] and our own recruiting, those interns go on to advanced degrees and then come back to Adesis in large part. So we’re seeding the future,” Cottone said. “We want to encourage STEM [education]. I saw what my wife went through in grad school, I’m a father of three daughters, so I want to empower women in STEM. I also want STEM for inner-city youth represented.”
Why should a young person looking for opportunities consider Cottone’s field of process chemistry?
“These are high-tech manufacturing jobs,” he said. “This type of technician work is going to be sought after for a long time. Younger people … need to be told about chemistry, they need to be have conversations about science so that they know that there’s great-paying jobs with great security that will keep you challenged for your career.”
As Adesis continues to grow, Cottone continues to look ahead.
“I’m excited about building a business, broadening our services and markets and reaching out for philanthropy projects — donating time at libraries, soup kitchens, food drives and STEM education.” And when it comes to technology, “there’s a really neat research aspect called antibody drug conjugates, where Adesis is playing a role right now in, hopefully, saving people from some forms of cancer. You take the large molecule and the small molecule and it’s linked together by something made at Adesis. We can do some really really difficult chemistry and do it fast.”
“Why Delaware? It’s about speed, it’s about collaboration, it’s about the ability to get things done.”-30-