Start it up
President's annual forum encourages entrepreneurial growth
3:44 p.m., April 25, 2012--What do the Black-Eyed Peas, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, University of Delaware President Patrick Harker, UD’s Entrepreneurial Studies program and the everyday entrepreneur have in common? They all want to get something started. And, save for the famed music group, they all want to get something started in Delaware.
That something – an entrepreneurial ecosystem – was the focus of this year’s President’s Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, “Start It Up Delaware,” held Thursday, April 19, on UD’s Newark campus.
In students' shoes
The annual event had a full agenda including presentations by entrepreneurs and community leaders as well as funding pitches and an entrepreneurial exhibition and award reception.
Let’s Get It Started Delaware, a video short produced by Evan Lober of SkeinMedia with UD’s E-Studies program, brought the crowd to focus with a montage about Delaware-based companies to the tune of the Black-Eyed Peas’ hit song.
Innovations and entrepreneurs from DuPont, MBNA (now Bank of America), Dogfish Head, Evozym, SevOne, Orphagenix and Veroha flashed across the screen as they positioned Delaware as “a state of innovation,” “a state of entrepreneurs” and “a state of leadership.”
“We want Delaware to be the best place in the country to start a business, build a business and grow a business,” said Markell in the video.
Harker echoed Markell’s remarks and highlighted the role UD’s E-Studies program, host of the forum, has taken by “aggressively pursuing engagement with the startup community.”
“On the one hand, we’re taking from this community as UD’s students get vital support from alumni, seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and consultants,” said Harker.
“On the other hand, we’re giving back to this same community in the form of programs like last year’s Startup Weekend: Delaware and Hen Hatch, UD’s premier startup funding competition. This mutuality is how we create the community we want to be.”
Harker also highlighted UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) campus, which will be a hub for those within and outside the UD community; the role the Small Business and Technology Development Center plays within UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP); and how UD has collaborated with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground and with JPMorgan Chase.
“This community of innovation is larger, stronger and tighter than ever before and it’s focused squarely on the end game: making Delaware the place to launch, develop and grow your business,” said Harker.
Innovation and startup stories
David Pensak, founder of Vaporiety, a company that has patented a vapor flow lid for beverage go-cups, was the featured speaker on innovation.
In his talk, “Innovation and Delaware – Perfect Together,” Pensak defined citizens, the University and government as the “three legs of the Delaware stool.”
According to Pensak, who had a 30-year career at DuPont before founding his own company, there are pros and areas for growth in each “leg.”
“Delaware citizens have a normal age distribution, an above average level of professional experience, lots of industrial experience and lots of agricultural experience,” said Pensak. “But what’s missing is any directory of experience or skills or an organizational focal point.”
Using Vaporiety as an example, Pensak explained that a lot of people were willing to help but he had to find individuals and companies with expertise in marketing, sales and more.
“Delaware’s saving grace is that people are willing to talk,” said Pensak. “We need to create a mechanism to get people with different expertise connected to one another, to help, to share their experiences and to listen.”
Pensak commended the University for its world-class faculty, highly motivated student body, life-long learning and practical and theoretical education but suggested there could be a better mechanism for outreach.
“Did you know the University provides community access to library facilities? This is priceless,” said Pensak, “and a resource we need more people to know exists.”
Finally, Pensak lauded the state for its proactive governor, climate for corporate governance and “good geography,” but suggested room for growth in terms of catalysis activities and access to specialized resources.
“The good news is that there is recognition of what is missing and a desire to fix the problem and open doors,” said Pensak.
Following Pensak, entrepreneurs Daniel Doll, cofounder of TalkChalk; Bryan Tracy, CEO and lead scientist for Elcriton; and Tracy Shickel of Sanosil, shared their startup stories.
Doll spoke on “Where the Classroom Lives Beyond the Bell,” and how he created a Facebook-like educational environment, where students can engage in classroom discussions and small groups, teachers can make posts and parents can read announcements.
Tracy presented “Molecular Scale Solutions for Insatiable Fuel Appetite,” a spin-off from his doctoral research at UD that commercializes microbial technologies for the sustainable production of commodity and specialty chemicals.
Shickel closed out the presentations on innovation with her talk, “Disinfectants with a Clean Agenda,” and noted the company has tasted success by playing in Delaware’s entrepreneurial ecosystem with UD, Delaware Technology Park, Markell and U.S. Sen. Chris Coons.
The next part of the forum shifted from innovation to entrepreneurship, with featured speaker Jeremy DeFilippis, cofounder of Jetty, a surf and skate branded company with a full service screen-printing division.
In his talk, “Making Our Own Waves,” DeFilippis, a 2001 UD graduate, offered advice to would-be entrepreneurs.
“Never be satisfied with how things are and look for opportunities,” said DeFilippis, who added screen-printing to his business’ repertoire in order to customize colors.
DeFilippis also suggested having a plan to supplement income and noted the importance of charity, both “for building a brand, and good karma, too.”
Finally, DeFilippis told attendees to do what they love.
“Whatever it might be, follow your passion,” said DeFilippis. “It’s a ton of hard work but when you create your own company you also get a ton of flexibility. I started Jetty to inspire others to do what they do. Design your life. Make your own waves.”
Following DeFilippis, Ernie Dianastasis, chairman of First State Innovation, and Lee Mikles, president of Start It Up Delaware!, presented.
Like Pensak, Dianastasis talked about the good news and challenges for entrepreneurs; he also spoke about the work of FSI, which was founded in late 2006 to help technology-based and early stage companies find capital and resources.
“We’re working on the creation of Delaware’s first angel fund and assisting the Delaware Economic Development Office in developing and evaluating the state’s overall strategy,” said Dianastasis.
“Instead of hoping for another $40 billion company like DuPont, MBNA or AstraZeneca, let’s build 40 $1 billion companies,” said Dianastasis. “FSI was created to make this happen.”
Mikles closed the presentation portion of the forum with a briefing on Start It Up Delaware! (SIUDE), an initiative created to help entrepreneurs share ideas, stories and advice.
Through connections with the E-Studies program and the coin Loft, and with a board comprised of entrepreneurs, investors and educators, Mikles said SIUDE aims to bring entrepreneurs to market faster by offering an array of resources.
“Entrepreneurs feel a sense of duty to help other entrepreneurs, if only to help them avoid mistakes they made in the past,” said Mikles. “Everyone has a story about a chance meeting over a coffee or beer that led to their startup. SIUDE will help to create a self-sustaining ecosystem where entrepreneurs can thrive.”
The second half of the forum followed with a networking session, the final presentations of Hen Hatch and 31 exhibitors.
Featured in the exhibits were ecosystem entities, sellers and sponsors of the forum, including UD’s OEIP; Connolly Bove; New Castle County Chamber of Commerce; CorpCo; and Belfint, Lyons and Shuman.
Article by Kathryn Meier