Believe it or not, 2021 was a good year for startups. Business owners are even optimistic about the state of their companies coming into 2022.
Yep — even during a pandemic, startups have been growing, in Delaware and beyond. But it’s been six years since the inaugural RealLIST Startups, Technical.ly annual roundup of the First State’s most promising young tech companies. It goes without saying that a lot has changed since 2017.
The local ecosystem, for one, has expanded: Programs that have launched within the last two years that are making an impact on this year’s most promising young companies include the Delaware Innovation Space’s Science, Inc. Accelerator, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership-led Startup302 pitch competition and the State of Delaware’s EDGE Grant.
And the companies we once called the state’s most promising are growing, too. Last year, the list was topped by Futures First Gaming, and we stand by that choice. In 2021, the esports startup embedded itself as a major force in Delaware, holding quarterly tournaments and virtual panels and generally continuing its growth in an industry that is becoming more and more vital. (Just ask the University of Delaware, which added a BA in game studies and esports in 2021.) But many of last year’s top 10 are thriving, even though the pandemic, including 1440 Film Co., Markee and UP Cycle.
This year, we’re seeing a lot of STEM startups — green tech, blue tech, neuroergonomics and AI, as well as a couple of non-STEM industry startups related to cars. Healthtech and fintech are still big in Delaware, but for whatever reasons, this is the year of STEM.
Technical.ly started the RealLIST as a yearly look at the exciting early-stage tech companies in each of our markets. Its name comes from a question that has often been debated in our newsroom: Is that startup real? Is the team serious? Is the product interesting?
Since there’s no single definition for what a startup even is, we needed to lay down some rules for what qualifies as a “real” tech startup in our eyes:
- Founded no earlier than 2019, following an early startup definition of ours
- Most of its revenue comes from an innovative product — no agencies
- Has shown some track record of success
- Remains independent, meaning it’s not been acquired, merged or gone public
- Headquartered and primarily staffed in Delaware (especially important in a state where many of the companies incorporated here don’t live here)
As we say every year: These rankings are not scientific. This is merely a list of 10 companies we’re most excited to follow in 2021. And, of course, feel free to argue your case if you think we’re wrong.
And now, without further ado, here is Technical.ly 2022 RealLIST Startups for Delaware:
Dr. Mary Larkin is founder and CEO of Gaskiya Diagnostics, which has a base at the Delaware Innovation Center connected to its Baltimore headquarters. Part of the blue tech boom in Delmarva, the startup — a recipient of both an EDGE Grant and Startup302 funding — has developed a quick diagnostic tool for aquaculture farmers so they can directly diagnose disease in shrimp, mollusk and finfish.
9. A.I. Whoo
Dr. Mathew Saponaro founded A.I. Whoo in 2019 to ethically capture data and extract insights to improve behaviors (both human and animal) in large spaces, with products including GOVision, which measures engagement at aquariums, and PARKVision, which assesses park use. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team created COVIDVision to help mitigate virus transmission by tracking things like mask adherence and social distancing. The startup came out of UD’s Horn Entrepreneurship and Summer Founders programs.
8. Aqua Science
Founded in 2020, this Newark-based 2021 EDGE Grant recipient is owned by Iwona Evans and run by an all-woman executive team, with Sejal Patel, Kathy Miklas and Natalia Rodriguez. The biotech startup supplies testing solutions to keep the water for municipalities and industrial companies safe, using bioluminescent technology.
Currently a member of the Emerging Enterprise Center’s incubation and accelerator program, WhipFlip was founded by Roger Clappe in 2021. The AI-driven platform allows users to have their car quickly appraised and sold online, including vehicle pickup. WhipFlip is backed by Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Founded in 2020 by Joanne Norris (a 2021 RealLIST Engineers honoree) and Nick Martin, Carbon Reform was part of the Delaware Innovation Space’s first Science, Inc. accelerator, and is one of several innovative green tech startups in Delaware. Its in-development technology serves two purposes: It removes carbon from the air to reduce emissions, and it reduces symptoms of “building sickness” like headaches and tiredness that can result from a buildup of CO2 in confined spaces.
5. CM Materials
CM Materials is another green tech startup, also located at the Delaware Innovation Space. Founded by Dr. Aminul Mehedi in 2021, this 2021 EDGE Grant recipient is commercializing new magnetic materials for power systems. The magnetic cores can be used for charging electric automobiles, wireless consumer electronics and robotics, and if adopted widely could reduce CO2 emissions by 2.65 GT by 2050, per Mehedi. CM has raised about $800,000 so far, including the EDGE Grant.
4. Elyte Energy
Founded by Dr. Jalaal Hayes in 2020, Elyte Energy is one of Delaware’s growing green tech companies. It was a part of Delaware Innovation Space’s Science, Inc. accelerator and has received a STEM Class EDGE Grant. Hayes developed the hydrogen storage technology in 2017, which has become the basis of Elyte Energy’s hydrogen power banks. The tech can fuel vehicles with self-replenishing hydrogen for zero-emission transportation and recreation. Hayes, aka “Dr. Jah,” is also the resident business leader with One Village Alliance.
3. Spray Less
A sort of protege company to the successful former University of Delaware startup Carvertise, Spray Less was founded by UD grads and former Carvertise employees David Breyla and Noah Lux with Horn Entrepreneurship grad John Mouser. Together, they found an opening in the vehicle wrapping industry that serves as a supplement to Carvertise’s offerings, rather than direct competition. Founded in 2021, the company now has a 2,000-square-foot facility near Newark and 150 clients, including Amazon.
We have kept a very close eye on HX Innovations over the past year, since it was named one of the big winners at Startup302. Founded by Nicole and Von Homer (a 2021 RealList Engineer), the Middletown-based footwear neuroergonomic company was voted as Delaware’s Business of the Year at the 2021 Technical.ly Awards, as much for its commitment to youth and community as the technology the company develops.
Desikant, founded by former DuPont engineer and Under Armour innovation director Kwaku Temeng in 2020, first crossed our radar when it received the top $75,000 prize in the Delaware Innovation Award Category funded by the Delaware Division of Small Business at the inaugural Startup302. The smart garment technology regulates body temperature by giving the natural body cooling system a high-tech hand. Crucially, the technology can help prevent surgeons and healthcare professionals from overheating in high-pressure situations where taking a break is not an option — a particularly relevant innovation for these pandemic times.
- Backyard Gig – This UD-based startup is poised to expand its odd jobs platform.
- Best Music Coach – This active online music coaching platform grew out of the EEC.
- Chess Express Kids – The winner of the 2021 Swim With the Sharks competition, its virtual coaching platform is growing.
- Curative Sciences – This EDGE Grant recipient focuses on oral care for cancer patients.
- Enetor – This EEC-based company makes engineering energy simulators for facility design.
- Lignolix – This Delaware Innovation Awards nominee out of the Delaware Innovation Space is developing new sustainable chemicals from plant waste.
- MCET Technologies – This nanotechnology-based sensors startup is developing smart textiles and wearable sensors.
- Neggster – This fintech company recently received an EDGE Grant to help its banking app move forward.
- Resonate Forward – This in-development healthtech startup also received an EDGE Grant.
- Synnovation Therapeutics – This Delaware Innovation Space-based startup is developing new oncology therapies.