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U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper and Alejandra Castillo, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development
Alejandra Castillo, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper visited the University of Delaware Friday, Sept. 24, to announce a five-year grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Fuel for an innovative, collaborative future

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson

UD’s Spin In program gets five-year grant from U.S. Economic Development Administration

The University of Delaware’s Spin In program, where businesses in the region connect with faculty and students to find innovative solutions for technical or other business problems, has won a five-year $509,615 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to expand its reach and impact.

The announcement came from Alejandra Castillo, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, during a visit with U.S. Sen. Tom Carper at UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus on Friday, Sept. 24.

The grant comes through EDA’s University Center Economic Development Program, designed to connect valuable university assets around the nation — including faculty, staff, students, researchers, laboratories and instruments — with businesses, manufacturers, nonprofits and government agencies in their regions. The goal is to build innovative, resilient, inclusive economic ecosystems. UD is one of 25 colleges and universities to receive a total of $2.5 million in grants in the 2021 EDA competition.

It’s a great match for the University of Delaware, said UD President Dennis Assanis.

Alejandra Castillo
"We have an historic opportunity to invest in economic development and build back better in communities all across the country," Castillo says.

“EDA’s 2021 University Center Economic Development Program aligns perfectly with our vision to make UD’s STAR Campus a growing hub of innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “The success of these efforts will benefit our entire region by leveraging the partnerships we continue to build with the public, private and nonprofit sectors. We are grateful that the Economic Development Administration recognizes the impact of our work, as well as the limitless potential here for even more development.”

Such partnerships are more critical now than ever, Castillo said, “as we have an historic opportunity to invest in economic development and build back better in communities all across the country.”

Economic development, she said, “is everything from infrastructure to water treatment plants to workforce development, the future of work, entrepreneurship, technology, tech transfer, innovation. Economic development comes in many different ways.”

The Spin In program provides students with opportunities that help to develop a strong workforce. Teams have unique opportunities to solve real-world business problems within a real entrepreneurial start-up environment, said Amalea Rassias, who manages the program for UD. It all leads to development of new products, businesses with scalable opportunities, jobs and a highly skilled workforce that supports regional industries and initiatives.

“This positions the program to scale up and create that broader impact,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper and UD Vice President John Long
John Long, executive vice president and chief operating officer at the University of Delaware, introduces U.S. Sen. Tom Carper at Friday’s grant announcement.

Friday, standing in a courtyard at STAR Campus, on land that once housed a Chrysler auto plant and its 4,000 workers, Carper said the day the bulldozers arrived to tear that plant down was one of the saddest of his life.

Now, exciting new projects are underway and anticipated in new facilities at STAR Campus, designed to enable collaborative excellence in biopharmaceuticals, health sciences, financial technology, entrepreneurship and innovative manufacturing, to name a few areas of focus.

“There has been an amazing transformation of this place,” Carper said. “We’ll soon have more working here than ever worked in the Chrysler plant and they’ll be good-paying jobs.”

The new grant adds fuel for many future endeavors.

“Today’s announcement is great news for economic development in our region, building upon the success of the STAR Campus,” said Carper, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “EDA’s investment in Delaware — from right here at the STAR Campus to the Innovation Space in Wilmington to the Automotive Center for Excellence at Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown — is paying dividends to Delaware’s economy.”

Visitors Friday toured a section of the STAR Campus that demonstrated the impact of EDA’s investments.

Officials tour UD's STAR Campus
Alejandra Castillo, assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (right) listen as Mike Bowman (center) talks about facilities available to startup companies at the University of Delaware’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus. Bowman is director of Delaware Technology Park.

Mike Bowman, director of Delaware Technology Park, took guests through the wet-lab incubator section known as DTP@STAR that grew out of a $500,000 EDA grant in 2016. Startups are selected to operate there based on their technology and business focus, leadership capability, financial status and the desire to locate near UD resources. They get access to top-level facilities, mentoring services and extensive business savvy.

Five years later, DTP@STAR has supported more than 20 companies, creation of 200 jobs, raised about $1 billion in financing and engaged 60 students and interns, said Bowman, who is also state director of the Delaware Small Business Development Center.

One of those companies is RiKarbon, founded by Basu Saha using research he did at UD. RiKarbon develops technologies for renewable products that use unconventional carbon feedstocks, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Another company that started at DTP@STAR now has a market value of more than $1 billion. Prelude Therapeutics moved to a larger incubation space at the Delaware Innovation Space, established in 2018.

EDA also provided support for Delaware Innovation Space Inc., a partnership between UD, the state of Delaware and the DuPont Company. Located at the DuPont Experimental Station in Wilmington, it offers 100,000 square feet of labs and facilities for science-oriented entrepreneurs and startups.

And earlier this year, EDA made a $750,000 investment in the Horn Entrepreneurship Program and its Proof of Concept Fund.

“You are a point of excellence to replicate, potentially, across the country,” Castillo told the UD group. “Our country needs this technological innovation and the commercialization, and I think this is where you are shining the most.”

The Spin In program is administered by UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships.

“Through the Spin In program, we are interacting with companies at a very critical time in their lifecycles,” said Charles G. Riordan, vice president for research, scholarship and innovation at UD. “They may be facing a challenge that is a go or no-go decision relative to the success of the company.

“From that perspective, the impact is enormous. And it leverages the talent of the students and faculty. The teams are inherently interdisciplinary. We have teams that involve engineers and scientists, artists, business students — all coming together and understanding not only how their own discipline is involved in the commercialization process, but how that collaboration and understanding of the differences is so critical.”

Much more information about EDA’s University Center program is available online.

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