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RiKarbon founder Basu Saha (middle), shown here with colleagues Bryan Feyock (right) and Chinmay Pawar, is among the tech-focused small business owners that have been helped by the Delaware Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which was recently recognized for its work by the U.S. Small Business Association.
RiKarbon founder Basu Saha (middle), shown here with colleagues Bryan Feyock (right) and Chinmay Pawar, is among the tech-focused small business owners that have been helped by the Delaware Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which was recently recognized for its work by the U.S. Small Business Association.

An essential connector

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

Small Business Development Center recognized for tech-based business support

The Delaware Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has been helping Delaware’s technology-based businesses grow and thrive since 1984.

In that time, SBDC, a unit of the University of Delaware’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP), has helped the First State’s research and small business community start more than 1,500 new businesses and create more than 5,000 jobs, and since 2010, raise over $300 million in capital. Over the last two years, SBDC has served over 2,300 clients, more than 50% of which were minority-, female- or veteran-operated businesses.

For these and other efforts to help grow Delaware’s economy, the U.S. Small Business Administration has awarded SBDC the 2020 Tibbitts Award

Given annually, the award recognizes Delaware SBDC as a “model of excellence” that has made substantial contributions to the nation’s economy and society through its support of small businesses and companies with a focus on innovative research and technology transfer.

The award is named after Roland Tibbetts, who was instrumental in developing the SBA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, which was initiated over 38 years ago.

“The Delaware SBDC has a long tradition of integrating technology with the small business community. The Tibbetts award is a well-deserved recognition of their success,” said John F. Fleming, district director of the U.S. Small Business Association’s Delaware District Office.

A pivotal role in small business success

SBDC is the only statewide, nationally accredited program that provides one-on-one consulting, training and information resources for innovators, startups and new and scaling businesses. A public/private partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the State of Delaware and the University of Delaware, the SBDC also is designated by the SBA as a first responder to assist with disaster relief efforts during economic crises and natural disasters. 

“This award recognizes some of the great work the Small Business Development Center has been doing to support entrepreneurs in Delaware,” said Damian DeStefano, director of the Delaware Division of Small Business. “Congratulations to Mike Bowman and the whole team. The small business landscape in Delaware is made stronger by their work, and we are happy to call them partners.”

The unit has been particularly successful in helping Delaware’s entrepreneurial and technology businesses apply for and secure funding from the U.S. Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. Since 2016, 88% of all federal SBIR technology grant funds awarded in the state of Delaware have gone to current or previous SBDC clients. 

SBIR/STTR technology funding is non-dilutive, meaning that the federal government provides the funding to small businesses developing groundbreaking, high-risk technologies while taking no equity. 

“It is a crucial funding mechanism that can seed early stage innovations and fuel commercialization opportunities, ultimately advancing the global competitiveness of Delaware’s entrepreneurial and technology ecosystems,” said Michael Bowman, state director for SBDC and associate director of OEIP.

RiKarbon was founded by Basu Saha, who credited the Delaware Small Business Development Center with providing guidance on everything from business-strategy to initial market research to advice on developing the company’s logo and initial website design.
RiKarbon was founded by Basu Saha, who credited the Delaware Small Business Development Center with providing guidance on everything from business-strategy to initial market research to advice on developing the company’s logo and initial website design.

RiKarbon, Inc. is a next generation technology company that grew out of UD research. Researchers at RiKarbon are working to engineer bio-based sustainable oil substitutes for petroleum-based resources used in everything from cosmetics to lubricants for shipping, agriculture and food processing.

According to Basu Saha, RiKarbon’s founder, working with the SBDC team has been transformational.

Saha credited SBDC with providing guidance on everything from business-strategy to initial market research to advice on developing the company’s logo and initial website design. Additionally, Saha said support from Louis DiNetta, an SBDC technology business development manager, was pivotal in the early stage startup’s successful application for federal funding.

“Lou’s assistance and advice on funding logistics, proposal strategy, proposal feedback and budgeting guidance in applying for funding from SBIR/STTR programs was critically important,” Saha said. “He was particularly knowledgeable about regulations related to government investment to small companies.”

Securing SBIR funding (phase I and phase II) allowed RiKarbon to grow and secure space at the Delaware Technology Park incubator located on UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus (STAR) Campus, so the company could scale its research and business model, Saha said. The company is formulating its first renewable-oil lubricant product for environmentally regulated applications in industrial and household products. The company’s initial cosmetic oil recently passed toxicity assessment, formulation compatibility and efficacy profiles. RiKarbon is currently forming strategic partnerships with commercial manufacturing capability to bring these products to consumers, including working with a top global partner. The company is planning a pilot-scale of its first product in the first quarter of 2021.

In a new thrust, RiKarbon is developing technologies for producing well-defined plastics-waste feedstock for chemical upcycling, through a separate SBIR grant. Saha said he still meets periodically with SBDC advisors to discuss strategic business and product advisory services, including investment. 

SBDC also co-manages the OEIP Spin In, a novel entrepreneurial program that partners entrepreneurs developing early-stage innovations with teams of UD students. The program’s interactive nature helps students gain critical understanding of business demands and technical skills to further develop innovations and move them down the commercialization pathway, all while learning to collaborate in teams.

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