Delaware, these 5 innovators won your 2020 Awards

The votes are in, and we have your Invention, Impact Leader, Technical Leader, Culture Builder and Business of the Year.

Stephanie Eldridge and Tariq Hook, cofounders of Code Differently. (Courtesy photo)
It’s been three years since held awards just for Delaware, and Delaware was ready.

Nearly 3,000 of you voted for 25 innovators in five categories: Invention, Impact Leader, Technical Leader, Culture Builder and Business of the Year. Nominees were posted on Dec. 10, and voting was open for a full week, ending last night.

So let’s get right to it! Here are the winners:

Impact Leader of the Year — Stephanie Eldridge

Along with 2020 RealLIST Engineers ranker Tariq Hook, Eldridge is cofounder of Code Differently, a coding education program with a focus on helping underrepresented youth find their place in the state’s tech talent pipeline. Check out a recap of Code Differently students Zoë JacksonDestiny Ryals, Prince Adenusi Eric Tlaseca and instructor Roger Campbell II presenting a virtual Dev Talk as part of Philly Tech Week 2020.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Code Differently expanded its offerings as part of Forward Delaware, a CARES Act-funded initiative partnering state, business and education leaders to develop certification programs that take 20 weeks or less to complete. The program they developed for the initiative, the Return Ready program, is a multitiered coding camp and job placement program available to adult Delawareans for free.

“We really want people, especially underrepresented people, to stop thinking that becoming a software developer is too hard,” Eldridge told in October.

Invention of the Year — TECHPRENEUR Incubator

Zip Code Wilmington's office sign at The Mill.

Zip Code Wilmington’s office sign at The Mill. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

For this year’s Invention of the Year category, most of the nominees were projects created to help folks navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Zip Code Wilmington’s TECHPRENEUR Incubator was one of them.

With unemployment at an all-time high and even some devs having a hard time finding a job at a big company, the new incubator combines coding classes with entrepreneurship training, so grads are not only able to code, they can start their own business. Graduates of Zip Code’s regular coding bootcamp cohorts are in luck, too: They can take just the entrepreneurship section of the program.

“It’s the first and only incubator in the area to offer coding, coupled with entrepreneurship and opportunities for individuals to start their own tech businesses right here in Delaware,” Desa Burton, executive director of Zip Code, told in November.

Technical Leader of the Year — Markevis Gideon

NERDiT Now cofounder Markevis Gideon with Ben du Pont and Thère du Pont.

NERDiT Now cofounder Markevis Gideon with Ben du Pont and Thère du Pont. (Courtesy photo)

Gideon, cofounder of NERDiT Now and the NERDiT Foundation, seems to have the golden touch this year.

After the business got major exposure on ABC’s Shark Tank” in 2019, the tech repair shop in Newport known for its blue and green converted ambulances — which they call “food trucks for tech” — was hit hard by COVID-19 and the related inequities.

But that didn’t stop the foundation from refurbishing and distributing hundreds of laptops to kids in Delaware who needed one for online schooling. (NERDiT has also been known to donate a computer lab or two in the state.) In just the past few months, Gideon has been selected for the E3 Wilmington incubator and Leadership Delaware’s class of 2021 and was the winner of Reinventing Delaware 2020.

Culture Builder of the Year — Dr. Dan Young

Dr. Dan Young

Dr. Dan Young. (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Young is the director of the Doctor of Business Administration Program at Goldey-Beacom College. Along with Wilmington University business professor Jason James, he started an ad-hoc initiative to put 100 new Black business professors in Delaware college and university classrooms by 2025.

Goldey-Beacom’s doctoral program is already inclusive: With about 40 students, around 50% are African American, and 50% are women, a breakdown he says is intentional. Young is also a big supporter of the cultural initiatives at Goldey-Beacom initiated by colleagues Jocelyn Moses and Tatiana Marshall, including these:

  • Creation of the Black Student Union
  • Creation of BRAVE Conversations
  • Creation of a course on “Hip Hop, Society, and Culture”
  • Creation of the National Association of Black Accountants
  • The discussion around Black fraternities and sororities
  • Putting “Black Lives Matter” on the college’s electronic billboard
  • Participating in Black Lives Matter rallies in Pike Creek

Business of the Year — Second Chances Farm

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 warehouse space in Riverside. (Photo by Holly Quinn)

Second Chances Farm started as an idea to take vacant Opportunity Zone commercial space in the Riverside neighborhood of Wilmington and turn it into an indoor commercial hydroponic vertical farm. It would employ people returning from the prison system with $15-an-hour “green collar” urban agriculture jobs. The project was cleared in the summer of 2019 and officially launched last November in a 47,500-square-foot facility on Bowers St., with 17 returning citizen employees.

The farm, the first of its kind in Delaware, was set to deliver its first harvest to local businesses in March, just as the COVID lockdown was ordered and restaurants shut down. Founder Ajit George did a quick pivot, offering the fresh produce directly to consumers via a subscription box service, and the business was able to sustain itself and even grow, thanks to a $50,000 Eating Healthy Initiative CARES ACT grant from New Castle County. The grant is is being used to expand the social enterprise’s “Eating Healthy” video series hosted by chef Robbie Jester of the Stone Balloon Ale HouseLimestone BBQ and Bourbon and Full Circle Food.

Companies: Second Chances Farm / Goldey-Beacom College / Code Differently / NERDiT NOW / Zip Code Wilmington
Series: Awards
People: Stephanie Eldridge / Dan Young / Markevis Gideon

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