Five years of Delaware startups.
When Technical.ly published the inaugural RealLIST Startups in 2017, 10 ten young and exciting local companies we listed included companies that are still going strong: DeliveryCircle (our first #1 RealLIST startup), WhyFly (#3) and Carvertise (#5). It also included a company that’s going strong under a different name, TheraV (which came in at #7 as Vibrating Therapeutic Apparel), and a few that have faded away — whatever happened to GoSend, SimUCare and Chronicle? Seriously, if you know, drop us a line.
A lot of Delaware startups are launched through the University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship program, which holds one of the biggest pitch competitions in the state with Hen Hatch. This year is no different, but our list this year also includes filmmakers, a pair of Goldey-Beacom College athletes and a trio of gamers.
First State startups tend to be more diverse than the Silicon Valley tech startup: As an agricultural state, there are agtech companies, for instance. As a longtime home of scientific innovation, we’ve had several science and medtech companies listed. And, as a center of finance, fintech continues to grow.
This year, though, seems to be the year of creative startups, as well as — unsurprisingly — the year of startups that have helped others navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
Technical.ly started the RealLIST as an annual look at the most promising 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 set in stone, we needed to lay down some rules for what qualifies as a “real” tech startup:
- Founded no earlier than 2018, 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
(Cool note: Last year’s #1 RealLIST startup, W7Energy, has aged out of our definition of a startup, but remains a major force in Delaware: Recently rebranded as Versogen, the polymer company out of the Delaware Innovation Space has a patented membrane technology that is being used in the design of products that will reduce carbon emissions by generating green hydrogen.)
It’s worth stating the obvious: 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 Delaware’s 2020 RealLIST Startups:
A finalist at the 2020 Hen Hatch competition, this food delivery app founded by UD students Hope Vega and Abu Kamara is up and running, and they’re looking to expand delivery for at least one of its partner markets due to volume.
The concept of GetPotluck differs from other delivery apps (which have seen a natural boom during the pandemic) because it partners specifically with small ethnic groceries such a Parivaar Indian Supermarket, Akwaaba Eats and Wang’s Food Store as a service to community members — not least of all homesick international students, who are looking for easier access to harder-to-find groceries. While the list of partner markets is currently short, the app also supports local small businesses that are unavailable on apps like Instacart.
9. UP Cycle
Sierra RyanWallick and Michelle Yatvitskiy started UP Cycle during this year’s virtual Horn Entrepreneurship Summer Founders program as a way to address the problem of an excess of clothing donations made to thrift stores like Goodwill during the pandemic. (Apparently, lots of people had the same idea to clean out their closets during lockdown.) By the end of the program, they were working with New Castle County Director of Economic Development Tamarra Morris Foulkes. With Foulkes’ help, UP Cycle was able to start developing its first community program in partnership with The Warehouse, which serves under-resourced teenagers in Wilmington. Teens will make patches out of the upcycled fabric RyanWallick and Yatvitskiy developed and sell them, learning about entrepreneurship along the way.
This is the second time Ajit George’s Second Chances Farm has made Delaware’s RealLIST Startups, after opening the vertical hydroponic urban farm in Riverside in November 2019. Now the Opportunity Zone ag company, which employs people returning home from incarceration via jobs where they can move up, is a working farm growing crops, including herbs and lettuce. Initially its client base was to be local restaurants and markets; a COVID pivot allowed people in the community to order subscription boxes for home delivery.
The winner of Hen Hatch 2020, this startup founded by Maya Nazareth designs and sells specialized apparel for women in mixed martial arts. Nazareth, a Jiu Jitsu fighter herself, had a hard time finding good rashguards that fit her, so she started to design them. The Alchemize brand also includes tees, branded recovery bath and a podcast featuring interviews with woman martial artists.
The Youpendo app aims to spread human connection and kindness across the globe with virtual “paper places” that users send and receive randomly. What started as a simple “acts of kindness” app struck a chord when it was released just as the pandemic was cutting people off from each other. Designed by Artur Zvinchuk and Chahin Aghrim, two German international students attending Goldey-Beacom College on soccer scholarships, the app has a growing following, with users asking for more connection. The recent update added a live group chat feature.
Another RealLIST second-timer, 360VR Technology is the “virtual reality with a purpose” startup from Horn students James Massaquoi and Sury Gupta. They use virtual reality to aid first responders by providing 3D floor plans of public spaces such as schools and office buildings in the event of an emergency, as well as other projects, including Blue Blaze Associates’ award-winning virtual tour of senior living community White Horse Village.
This second-time RealLISTer won this year’s Swim with the Sharks, the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce’s annual pitch competition. The Newark-based startup founded by Adam Stager treats crops against pests with UV-C light, with pilot sites in Georgetown and Camden, Delaware, as well as Kearneysville, West Virginia. The agtech innovation aims to greatly reduce the use of pesticides.
One of the youngest startups on the list, Markee is a “spinoff” of sorts of Short Order Production House, developed in the offices of Short Order with then-Short Order COO (now Markee CEO) Craig Doig during the first summer of COVID-19. Markee is a virtual space that, at first glance, looks similar to Zoom, but has the interactivity of a Discord or Slack and is far more customizable.
The platform might have been more of an honorable mention contender this early, if it weren’t for its early adopters, including New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, which used an early alpha version of the platform for it virtual annual dinner and Women’s Conference, and MusicGamingCon, which made the most of its customizable options for its virtual com.
The Wilmington area was never really known for its filmmakers, but with the rise of digital media, they city sustains several film companies putting out high-quality work. 1440 Film Co. founder Mike Pfeifer worked for Short Order Production House before he decided to start his own company, which he set up in a small office at The Mill in 2019. Since then, he and his team have been busy with ads and documentaries, building a portfolio that includes Wawa, Zip Code Wilmington and CompassRed.
1440 selected TeenSHARP as the first recipient of its Project Giveback program, where the company annually donates a film project to a nonprofit in the community that doesn’t have the budget for film production. The final short documentary film, released in June 2020, features several TeenSHARP students and their parents opening college admittance emails for the first time.
Esports are the future, and few are as serious about the future of esports in Delaware than founders Malcolm Coley, Newdy Felton and Stephen Sye, whose Futures First Gaming not only organizes and runs esports events like last month’s Pandamonium, but is launching esports teams in local schools and is committed to using gaming, coding and esports-related workforce development to reduce street violence in Delaware. Events are inclusive and geared toward gamers who may feel marginalized in other esports settings, with a focus on console games and panels intended to inspire minority gamers. This startup may still be under the radar for some, but it’s growing quickly and making an impact.
A few more startups that we’re keeping an eye on this year: