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RealLIST Connectors: Meet the 75 leaders building Delaware’s innovation community

From founders to incubator leaders to extraordinary networkers, these are the people making the links to grow the local tech and entrepreneurship scene.

(L to R) Mona Parikh, Jocelyn Harper, Holly Quinn, and Catherine Burch at Women in Digital Delaware 2018. (Photo via Twitter)

This editorial article is a part of Technical.ly's Community Building Month of our editorial calendar.

Delaware is known as the state where everybody knows everybody.

In reality, even in the Small Wonder, people need to network and meet new people, whether they’re new to the area or a lifelong Delawarean starting or growing a business. And, like anywhere, who you know can help you find the right collaborators, investors or the job you’re after.

For the past four years, we at Technical.ly have been bringing you lists of promising startups in Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C. and Delaware. Now, we’re happy to introduce the next evolution in the RealLIST series: RealLIST Connectors, our roundup of folks working to build their local tech, entrepreneurship and innovation community by linking others with an eye toward future growth and inclusivity.

In this list you’ll see many different initiatives that these leaders have started and organized, but there’s one thing that unites them: It’s not just about them. In the conversations we’ve had over the years, it’s become clear that they care about their city’s tech and business community, and about leaving it better for future generations.

Many have had success at individual pursuits, but so often it’s the case that they realize they didn’t get there on their own. So now, they’re connecting others to help the cycle continue, whether that’s through organizing a meetup, heading an organization or going out of their way to make sure two people know each other. That’s how communities grow.

This list was compiled with input from Technical.ly’s newsroom, including Delaware lead reporter Holly Quinn (hey!), editor Julie Zeglen and CEO Chris Wink. We solicited nominations from the community itself, but mainly, we referred back to our years of reporting on the local tech, entrepreneurship and innovation economies. What you see below is a peek into our source book.

Jonathan Adly

  • Founder of Coderrific Academy
  • In the year that Adly’s extracurricular coding school for kids has been around, it’s grown rapidly, and has partnered with organizations around Northern Delaware, including the Christiana Cultural Arts Center, ASPIRA and Wilmington Montessori, making him a rising connector in the area of access and education.

Carol Arnott-Robbins

  • Founder of NEWS4Women
  • As founder of NEWS4Women, Arnott-Robbins supports local women-owned businesses, nonprofits and individual women. She is also a producer, along with Wendy Scott (see below), of the Conversations with Women event series, highlighting Delaware women who have broken barriers.

Mike Bowman

  • Director of the Delaware Small Business Technology Development Center
  • Bowman is from an older generation of economic development scale, serving as a major contributor to the STAR Campus and other big projects, with special focus on bioscience, but he’s also built up a fledgling angel investor community and kept tabs on the state’s software and startup sector.
Mike Bowman, of the Delaware Technology Park, speaking at the Delaware Innovation Week Entrepreneur Bootcamp.

Mike Bowman in 2016. (Photo by Christopher Wink)

Andrew Braune

  • President of Danio Connect
  • What started out as a super-secure medical management system has evolved to include an entire platform for connecting nonprofits, consumers and businesses. The company has also launched Danio Meals, where people can receive offers from local businesses triggering a donation to the Sunday Breakfast Mission after opening a set number of emails.

Christopher and Robert Buccini

  • Founders and co-presidents of Buccini/Pollin Group
  • Brothers Chris and Robert Buccini came up in Wilmington’s Little Italy. Now, along with partner David Pollin, they own many of downtown Wilmington’s historic buildings, including the Hotel du Pont, The DuPont Building and the Nemours Building. As Wilmington developers, they have helped to reinvigorated Market Street, and are involved with some of the city’s biggest projects of the last five years, including The Mill, DECO, and the 76ers Field House.

Catherine Burch

  • Corporate director of the Health & Technology Innovation Center at ChristianaCare
  • ChristianaCare is the largest private employer in Delaware, and Burch heads its innovation center in Wilmington, where technologists develop everything from digital check-ins to VR technology for cancer patients.

Desa Burton

  • Executive director of Zip Code Wilmington 
  • Burton took over the top position at Zip Code Wilmington formerly held by Melanie Audustin in 2019. A veteran on the U.S. Navy, she brought a passion for helping veterans and underemployed adults find new career paths in software development and data engineering.

Cerron Cade

  • Secretary of the Delaware Department of Labor 
  • Not all public servants are connectors, but if you’re in job creation or economic development in Delaware, Cade, who was acting director of the Delaware Economic Development Office before being conformed as secretary of the DDL, is one to know.
Cerron Cade with Gov. John Carney in January.

Secretary Cerron Cade with Gov. John Carney. (Photo via Delaware.gov)

Patrick Callahan

  • Founder and managing partner of CompassRed Data Labs
  • The entrepreneur’s data and analytics agency regularly hosts tech meetups. He’s known, too, for the influential digital firm he cofounded in 2003, Archer Group, which was acquired this year.

Patrick Callihan

  • Executive director of Tech Impact
  • His nonprofit connects underrepresented communities with tech skills training, and he was a part of the team getting Zip Code Wilmington off the ground.

Rick Carroll

  • Partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr 
  • Innovation ecosystems lean on lawyers that invest in building relationships early and play them out into the future. Carrol is also a board member for Tech Forum.

Dora Cheatham

  • Executive director at Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance
  • Formerly the director at the Emerging Enterprise Center, Cheatham knows the Delaware business, tech and STEM communities well.

Jennifer Cho

  • Head of citizenship and community relations for Barclays US Consumer Bank
  • Wilmington economic development circles stirred as tech roles began to be concentrated in North Jersey, away from Wilmington. But the bank has maintained some local focus, aided by Cho, who joined Barclays in 2018 after a stint at UBS in New York. She’s built a network and reputation, with special attention to COVID response.

Malcolm Coley and Newdy Felton

  • Cofounders of Influencers Lab Media
  • Known for their strong community support and avid collaboration, Coley and Felton are among the team building the WIN Factory, as well as esports startup Futures First Gaming. They’re also part of the media team for the NERDiT Foundation, which has distributed hundreds of computers to under-resourced kids and adults in Wilmington during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.
(L-R) Malcolm Coley, Tamara Varella and Newdy Felton

(L to R) Malcolm Coley, Tamara Varella and Newdy Felton of the Win Factory. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

Stuart Comstock-Gay

  • President and CEO of the Delaware Community Foundation
  • Over eight weeks, the Delaware Community Foundation awarded $2.3 million in grants to nonprofits via its  Delaware COVID-19 Strategic Response Fund. When not in crisis mode, the DCF works directly in the community to address issues and form collaborations. Comstock-Gay is also a member of the Wilmington Alliance board.

JulieAnne Cross

  • Founder of CrossPro
  • You may know Cross as the founder of the Delaware Burger Battle — her events support local businesses (and economic development) as well as hunger programs and high school culinary curricula. She’s also the general manager of Delaware Shakespeare and runs her own public relations and communications firm.

Joe DiGiovanni

  • Cofounder of Tapp Network
  • Based at The Mill, Tapp Network is a marketing firm specializing in nonprofits that takes an active role in community development. One of its recent projects was streamlining the Delaware census with online tools and mapping.

Ben du Pont

  • Cofounder of Chartline Capital, yet2 and Zip Code Wilmington
  • du Pont has had a major role in building up Wilmington’s tech presence as a cofounder of Zip Code Wilmington, and continues to support the economic development of Delaware through the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, which brings Delaware thought leaders together to support new ideas and businesses.
Shirley Min, Ben duPont and Zack Seward talking tech on WHYY.

Shirley Min, Ben du Pont and Zack Seward talking tech on WHYY. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Thère du Pont

  • President of the Longwood Foundation
  • Where investors lack, some foundations play a role. Longwood’s investments span a wide range and have supported efforts in innovation, including Leadership Delaware and Science and the Technology and Research Institute of Delaware.

Wills Elliman

  • Senior managing director of Newmark Knight Frank
  • If there’s anything you need to know about the Wilmington office market, from number of vacancies to leasing trends, Elliman is your go-to. He releases a market report for Wilmington’s office market quarterly.

Jeff Flynn

  • Director of economic development of the City of Wilmington
  • Simply put, he’s the city’s longest running startup advocate.

Dan Freeman

  • Founding director of Horn Entrepreneurship
  • UD’s Horn Entrepreneurship has been developing startups since 2011 with undergraduate and summer programs, the annual Hen Hatch pitch competition, the global Diamond Challenge for high school students, and NeoFest, a tech and entrepreneurship conference that will launch in 2021 after postponing this spring due to COVID-19.

Kurt Foreman

  • President and CEO of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership
  • Foreman and his team have been fostering economic development across the state of Delaware by helping businesses establish themselves here and supporting the entrepreneur and small business community. The nonprofit public/private state economic development agency was founded in 2017 and has helped companies like Adesis, Farmer’s of Salem and Amazon move to or expand in Delaware.

Ajit George

  • Founder of Second Chances Farm
  • George is responsible for bringing the TEDx brand to Wilmington, organizing many successful TEDxWilmington events. In 2019, he started Second Chances Farm, an indoor hydroponic farm in Riverside that employs formerly incarcerated people and puts them on the track to become business owners. The farm pivoted from restaurant supply to direct-to-consumer due to COVID-19.
Ajit George speaks next to one of the hydroponic towers that will soon fill the warehouse space in Riverside.

Ajit George speaks next to one of the hydroponic towers that will soon fill the Second Chances Farm warehouse space in Riverside. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

Markevis Gideon and Jake Voorhees

  • Partners, NERDiT Now and the NERDiT Foundation
  • NERDiT NOW is a lot more than a device repair shop in Newport. The former Hen Hatch winner has appeared on “Shark Tank,” but its most notable project in 2020 is the NERDiT Foundation efforts to provide access to technology to people in under-resourced areas, a project that ramped up when they received a grant from Capital One to distribute laptops during the COVID-19 crisis.

Jessica Glassco

  • Makerspace coordinator at the Route 9 Library
  • Formerly the president of Barrell of Makers, Delaware’s first makerspace, Glassco now runs the state-of-the art makerspace at the Route 9 Library in New Castle. She’s helped to connect entrepreneurs and makers with 3D printers to make PPE for essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
jessica glassco

Jessica Glassco in full PPE. (Courtesy photo)

Ken Grant

  • Public and government affairs manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic
  • Grant is an early web advocate, event junkie and huge booster for Delaware, both in his position at AAA and as a member of the community. He’s also president-elect for PRSA Delaware Chapter.

Sharon Kelly Hake

  • Founder of Great Dames
  • As the founder of one of the area’s most impactful communities for women, Hake has connected countless entrepreneurs, business leaders and philanthropists in Delaware through mentoring programs and events such as Powerful Conversations.

Jocelyn Harper

  • Software engineer, consultant and host of the “Git Cute” podcast
  • The passionate advocate for diversity within the technology sector has previously led meetups for women in tech and is now a willing mentor.

Ryan Harrington

  • Data scientist for CompassRed Data Labs
  • A leader in civic tech in Delaware, Harrington is an organizer of Open Data Delaware events, including weekly Code & Coffees, online and at the Brandywine Hundred Library.

Robert Herrera

  • Founder of The Mill
  • The Mill coworking and office space in downtown Wilmington and, now, Concord Plaza has been one of the most impactful companies in Delaware’s entrepreneurship community, offering a place to do business on a small (though sometimes large — DuPont Digital is among its members) scale, network and hold meetings and events. A huge advocate of Wilmington, Herrera is also co-owner of the food and drink spot Girard & Faire on Ninth Street.
Robert Herrera in the first floor space at the new Mill location. (Holly Quinn)

Robert Herrera in the first floor space at the new Mill location. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

John Himics

  • Cofounder of First Ascent Design
  • Himics  is a former DuPont engineer, adjunct professor at the University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship and cofounder of First Ascent Design in Wilmington. He launched the podcast “Cooler Than Me” in 2019.

Chris Bruce and Jono Hooper

  • Owner and business development manager, respectively, of King Creative
  • King Creative has been busy connecting people in Delaware, not least of all during the COVID-19 crisis, when they launched the video series COVID Conversations and joined the NERDiT Foundation’s media team, helping them increase access to laptops for students in Delaware. Hooper is a founding director of Startup Grind Wilmington.

Garry Johnson

  • Founder of KnowCapp and First Founders
  • Johnson received lots of nominations, but simply put: “He wants to empower minority entrepreneurs by providing access to resources they otherwise would not have.” One of his most recent projects is KeepUsOpen.com, a crowdfunding site that supports small businesses in Wilmington and several other cities during the COVID-19 crisis.
Garry Johnson

Garry Johnson. (Courtesy photo)

Renata Kowalczyk

  • CEO at Wilmington Alliance
  • Launched in 2018, Wilmington Alliance joined the Wilmington Leaders Alliance and the Wilmington Renaissance Corporation to drive the revitalization, economic growth and future opportunities for the city. Formerly a JPMorgan Chase executive, Kowalczyk is a member of Pipeline Angels, an angel investing network that focuses on woman entrepreneurs and an advocate of the arts.

Catherine Lindroth

  • Founder of Social Contract
  • In the Delaware nonprofit space, Lindroth is a super-connector. As cofounder of SummerCollab, a nationally recognized summer education program for under-resourced youth, she helped narrow the summer learning gap. The program evolved into Tyler’s Camp. She now focuses on Social Contract, which aims to solve all kinds of challenges in the community in partnership with government, philanthropic, and community leaders.

Paul McConnell

  • Partner at McConnell Johnson
  • Once one of the leaders in creating connections between an old school real estate world and Wilmington’s new creative class, he took a big step back as the coworking space he cofounded, 1313 Innovation, had missteps. He still remains a business leader and we hear a new vision for 1313 is coming.

Jen McDermott

  • Executive director of global technology workforce strategy for JPMorgan Chase
  • Her purview is global hiring but given the JPMorgan Tech Center is one of the state’s biggest consolidation’s of tech talent.

Al McGowan

  • CEO of TrafficCast
  • Part of the cluster of business leaders connecting Pennsylvania and Delaware, he’s run several early tech firms, including his TrafficCast, now located at The Mill in downtown Wilmington.

Kelly McVeigh Stanley

  • Acting VP for Information & Instructional Technology at Delaware Technical Community College
  • This exec is known as an advocate for technology education in Delaware.

Kelly McVeigh Stanley. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Matt Meyer

  • County executive for New Castle County Government
  • Meyer, who has led New Castle County since 2017, has an entrepreneurial background and made it one of his priorities to create resources for Delaware entrepreneurs. In 2018, New Castle County unveiled NCC Innovates, a platform for entrepreneurs that Meyer had talked about implementing before he was elected.

Will Minster

  • Director at The Launcher Program at West End Neighborhood House
  • Minster is a Wilmington fixture who went from running the family business — Minster’s Jewelers — to a leader in Wilmington revitalization. He’s been president of the Downtown Business Association and a board member of both Wilmington Renaissance Corporation and Downtown Visions. His Façade Improvement Program of Main Street Wilmington restored 50 building facades and awarded 60 grants to small businesses in Downtown Wilmington.

Tracy Morgan

  • Managing partner of North Star Strategies
  • Morgan was enthusiastically nominated as a connector: “She follows through. Tracy looks for how people can help people. She identifies people who should meet. She solves problems through connecting people. What makes her different is that she follows up to ensure the match worked.”

Tamarra Morris

  • Director of economic development for New Castle County Government
  • Morris leads the department that is specifically focused on the development of an innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem in New Castle County.

Mac Nagaswami MacLeod

  • Cofounder of Carvertise
  • Possibly the most successful business to come of the UD’s Horn Entrepreneurship and 1313 Innovation, Carvertise is a national mobile advertising company based in Wilmington. When not expanding the business with cofounding partner Greg Star, he sits on the board of directors for TeenSHARP and actively volunteers with pro-entrepreneurship initiatives such as the Delaware Youth Leadership Network.
Mac Nagaswami, CEO of Carvertise. (Photo courtesy of Miracle Olatunji)

Mac Nagaswami, CEO of Carvertise. (Photo courtesy of Miracle Olatunji)

Rob Nicholson

  • Innovation program lead and solutions integrator for Delaware Department of Technology and Information
  • A “government innovator” and Navy Veteran currently in the Naval Reserve, Nicholson is one of the biggest advocates for Sussex County entrepreneurs, ocean research and agtech.

Mona Parikh

  • President and cofounder at FyberX HempCo.
  • A few years back, she would have topped our list (that is, if it were ranked). The lifelong Delawarean was a Wilmington creative class queen and early startup mama bear. After several roles, she took remote work with a Silicon Valley firm but still runs in circles important to economic change.

Rebecca Parsons and Andrew Larason

  • Director of operations and community manager, respectively, of The Mill
  • The Mill is a hub of entrepreneurial activity in Wilmington and few are as connected to it then Parsons and Larason.

Zach Phillips

  • Founder of Short Order Production House
  • Part of the coveted creative class that commutes between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Phillips bought former studio space from WHYY to develop one of the city’s coolest offices. Along the way, he’s established a client base and creative projects spanning industries and sectors, making him a natural connector.
Zach Phillips directs “Take Back Your Privacy" in H.B. DuPonr Park.

Zach Phillips directs “Take Back Your Privacy” in H.B. DuPont Park. (Courtesy photo)

Chandra Pitts

  • Founder of One Village Alliance
  • An activist and advocate for youth in Wilmington, Pitts is involved with Girls Can Do Anything and Raising Kings, the MLK Day of Service at the Delaware Art Museum, and the Well-Read Black Girl Book Club.

Greg Plum

  • Director of marketing for Brandywine Technology
  • Plum knows Delaware’s job market and trends, and as a member of the board of directors for Tech Forum, he’s involved with the evolving organization tech and networking events. Brandywine Technology has also partnered with organizations like TechGirlz.

Alta Porterfield

  • Statewide community resources coordinator at Inspiration Space for Delaware Libraries
  • Delaware Libraries evolved its job centers into full inspiration spaces with more resources for entrepreneurs and job seekers, including workshops, access to 3D printers and community networking and collaboration.

Bill Provine

  • CEO of Delaware Innovation Space
  • The Delaware Innovation Space, a collaboration between DuPont, the University of Delaware and the State of Delaware, is an innovation ecosystem for STEM startups at the Experimental Station. The wet lab incubator funds promising startups via its First Fund program and offers “lab pods” for startups. Companies connected to DIS include Incyte, Prelude, Napigen and W7Energy.

David Rhoades

  • CEO of Maven Security Consulting Inc
  • Rhoades organizes meetups for the Delaware chapter of The Open Web Application Security Project, a nonprofit foundation that works to improve the security of software.

Jake Ruddy

  • DE/MD president of PCS
  • President of the board of directors of Tech Forum, Ruddy is a leader in Delaware’s tech community, helping make connections, form collaborations and provide resources.

Wendy Scott

  • Chief strategy officer at Blue Blaze Associates
  • Scott is not only one of the women behind Blue Blaze, she is also a producer, along with Carol Arnott-Robbins, of the Conversations with Women event series, highlighting Delaware women who have broken barriers.
wendy scott blue blaze associates

Wendy Scott in her at-home workspace. (Courtesy photo)

James Spadola

  • Executive director of Read Aloud Delaware
  • Spadola, a Newark police officer until 2017, has spent the last few years focused on helping the community, especially kids. He helped bring Coded By Kids to Kingswood Community Center, serves as the chairman of the Wilmington Housing Authority and founded the podcast “Elected Officials of America.”

Jim Stewart

  • CEO of Epic Research
  • Part of the Zip Code Wilmington founding mafia, he’s building out a financial services research firm and maintains a long network from First USA and other banking jobs

Carla Stone

  • President of World Trade Center Delaware
  • If you want to really grow your connections and do business internationally, import, export or network with businesspeople overseas, Stone is the one to know.

Stephen Sye

  • Executive director of the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation and cofounder and CEO of Futures First Gaming
  • This experienced exec is at the head of the org running the Reinventing Delaware dinner pitch series as well as the new startup bringing esports and STEM education to Delaware kids.

Ivan Thomas

  • Founder of DETV
  • Comcast Channel 28, now known as DETV, is Delaware’s own television network, a mix of leased access content and content produced by the DETV team in their Wilmington studio. Thomas covers human stories about local people with a focus on positive stories overlooked in the local news, with a variety of show formats. DETV is also the TV home of the Delaware Blue Coats.
Ivan Thomas

Ivan Thomas. (Screenshot)

Mark Thompson and Mike Palita

  • CEO and cofounder, respectively, of WhyFly
  • The Wilmington-based Wi-Fi company provides reliable broadband to many businesses and residents in Delaware, with perks of a smaller provider like contract-free service. When the City of Wilmington needed to provide more broadband for students without internet access when schools closed due to COVID-19, WhyFly stepped up and provided several hotspots across the city.

Andrea Tinianow

  • Blockchain consultant and chief innovation officer for Global Kompass Strategies
  • Blockchain expert Tinianow launched an app in 2019 after she couldn’t find an existing product that made it easier to connect people during the course of the day and at networking events. The app, Connector Street, is used by The Mill to connect members.

Eric Van Der Poel

  • Cloud automation architect at Comcast
  • Van Der Poel is the organizer for Delaware DevOps, a group “who believe in a cultural and professional movement, focused on how we build and operate high velocity organizations, born from the experiences of its practitioners.” They hold meetup events and  presentations.

Tamara Varella

  • Chief manifest officer at Manifest Business Consultants
  • Varella runs the show at the WIN Factory, Delaware’s first Black-owned coworking space, along with Newdy Felton, Malcolm Coley, Kenyon Wilson, Alfred Campbell and Linda Watson. The highly collaborative space is connected to the WIN Factory Wealth League, and hosts weekly MASTERMIND sessions featuring local experts offering advice on building and maintaining a business.

Ann Venkataraman

  • Fraud analytics manager for TD Bank
  • Venkataraman took over for Mona Parikh as a lead of the Delaware Tech Meetup, which holds monthly sessions for members of the Delaware tech community. Last year, it moved its online base from Meetup to LinkedIn.

Ann Venkataraman. (Photo via LinkedIn)

Charles Vincent

  • Executive director of Spur Impact
  • Spur Impact is all about networking and collaboration in Delaware, best known as the organizer of The Millennial Summit and the organization behind DEGives.org.

Jenn Walters-Michalic

  • Community impact and investment lead for Capital One and Capital One Foundation
  • As the head of community impact for Capital One and its charitable foundation, Walkters-Michalic is in charge of where the company’s grant money goes within the community, and what events the company sponsors.

Rod Ward

  • CEO of CSC
  • CSC is one of Delaware’s longest-running companies at 121 years old, but the business services company established itself as a top tech company in the state when it opened its state-of-the-art headquarters in the Wilmington suburbs in 2017. It continues to grow: CSC Station, a new downtown office with two floors of coworking space, is currently under construction in the former Pennsylvania Railroad Building.

Joe Westcott

  • VP of operations and Delaware market president at Capital One
  • Capital One’s top-ranking official stationed in Delaware, Westcott has a long tenure with the local banking scene.

John Williams

  • President of Inc. Now and The Williams Law Firm
  • Williams innovated his law firm with the all-digital Inc. Now platform, allowing business owners around the world to apply for incorporation in Delaware. It became the state’s first certified B Corporation in 2019, scoring high marks for its support for local causes. Williams and his team are also an active part of the Delaware rowing community.
Companies: University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship / NERDiT NOW / JPMorgan Chase & Co. / CSC / State of Delaware / Tapp Network / CompassRed / The Mill / Zip Code Wilmington / Capital One / City of Wilmington / Carvertise / ChristianaCare / University of Delaware
Series: RealLIST Connectors / Community Building Month 2020 / RealLIST

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