If you grew up in Delaware, there’s a good chance it was because you have a parent who was relocated here for a job at DuPont or AstraZeneca or whichever bank dominated the city at the time. And if you didn’t, you knew plenty of people who did.
Bringing in talent from other places allowed those companies to stay in Delaware and create jobs for people who already lived here.
But while we usually think of talent shortages as a big business problem, it’s also a huge challenge for smaller businesses, especially tech startups.
We convened some of Delaware’s 2023 RealLIST Startups and asked them about hiring in Delaware from their points of view as the leaders of growing companies in different industries.
The conversation may be disheartening for startup founders hoping to stay in Delaware. But for local talent — recent college grads, technologists with experience working with tech or growth-stage companies, and transplant technologists who relocated here for family reasons — keep in mind, it could be an opportunity to be sought after with little competition for jobs that are not in the state’s “hot” industries like finance and pharmaceuticals.
Tech startup talent is hard to find in Delaware
If you have extended experience working at a startup, as opposed to working for a bank or large corporation for several years, you’re virtually a unicorn in Delaware.
“When you’re hiring for a startup, generally, you want to hire people that have already worked in a startup, and you don’t find that in Delaware,” said Dan Goodman, cofounder of Tangia. His esports streaming startup has been funded by VCs out of places like Silicon Valley and Boston, and will soon be relocating to a city more amenable to the type of company he’s trying to grow. “In Delaware you find people that worked at a bank for seven years, or the person has just graduated from college. And neither of those are appropriate for a startup, at least for a hardcore tech startup like we are.”
Delaware probably won’t become a Silicon Valley-type tech hub any time soon (and some Delaware founders are OK with that), not least of all because of challenges with local funding. But entrepreneurship has broadly gotten an increasing amount of support in Delaware over the last decade, from ecosystem builders to federal grants. It’s something some local entrepreneurs hope will continue, while drawing more of the “special breed” of person who thrives in a startup environment.
“I think that it’s hard to find those types of people if they’re not coming up in that kind of ecosystem,” said Eric Smith, cofounder of the Delaware-based startup studio Launch Point Labs. “We’re trying to build out that kind of thing. So when we look for new people to join our team, a lot of times we are looking outside of the state as well. Not that we’re ignoring the people here, but more people from outside of the state have more of that startup experience.”
Finding partners can be challenging, too
Founders like Cora Castle of OmniPotential Energy Partners, a residential electric vehicle charging startup, have used more old-school methods.
“I found one of my cofounders through my personal network,” Castle said. “The other one I found by crawling through the [figurative] phonebook and literally going out and talking to local manufacturers until I found somebody who shared my entrepreneurial spirit and decided to come on board as a cofounder.”
The ever-present impact of remote work
Remote work is another factor that can help Delaware startups find talent by opening up the highly competitive world of startup recruitment beyond state lines. Gianna Whitver, cofounder of the growing Cybersecurity Marketing Society, hopes to hire local in the coming year.
“I’ve always worked at remote companies and startups, and they’ve all been completely remote and never in an office,” Whitver said. “So for me personally, hiring locally would be really nice. When we get to that point it would be great to have a local office.”
Whether Delaware becomes as appealing for startups as it is for big companies depends a lot on people at all levels of the local startup ecosystem supporting it — something that is easier said than done in cases like Tangia.
Still, Launch Point Labs’ Smith sees potential.
“I think that as this idea of entrepreneurship continues to take foothold in Delaware,” he said, “there will be a larger selection of people to be able to choose from and collaborate with at an early stage.”
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