By Ken Mammarella
Special to Delaware Business Times
The DuPont Experimental Station this summer will start experimenting with an incubator space. The 100,000-square foot lab and office space, run by Delaware Innovation Space Inc. (DISI), seeks to attract former DuPont employees who have struck out on their own.
However, “it’s not a retainment program,” said Bill Provine, president and CEO of DISI.
The project has $24.75 million in commitments by three founding partners. DuPont is donating a $15 million building, $2 million in lab equipment and $1.25 million in funding. The State of Delaware will provide $5 million over three years and support in attracting companies. UD will contribute $1.5 million over three years and various services, such as workshops, grant writing and interns.
Before DISI adds to its staff of one, Provine is building the 501 (c) (3) nonprofit with help from experts he has connected with in 20 years of working for DuPont, mostly at the Experimental Station.
For tenants, he already is in “active conversations with a number of companies,” including startups, expanding local companies and companies elsewhere that want to set up operations in Delaware.
In a YouTube video, he touts a location between New York and Washington and a 114-year history in scientific breakthroughs, including nylon and Kevlar. When it’s built out, he expects about 200 workers will work out of the space.
To maximize flexibility for tenants, DISI is using two buildings. E500 and E400 have “multi-use, laboratory space for the industrial biotech, advanced materials, chemical ingredients, renewable energy, nutrition and healthcare,” according to deinnovates.org. The space also features fee-based laboratory suites, shared open space, and a number of support services.
“It’s some of the most diversified space in the country,” Provine said, referring to equipment like glassware, ovens, balances and grinders — and those are just the ones with short and common names.
Tim Mueller, DuPont’s global research productivity and North American research leader, told a Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance gathering that DISI will drive tenants forward with carrots (many services, a supportive environment and mentors to keep scientists from bogging down in the “business quagmire”) and sticks (a challenging environment, milestones and gatekeeping protocols).
DISI is not an information technology hub, he said. It is also not the lowest-cost space available, a space for unfounded tech exploration or an extension of the founding partners.
“It’ll be a very welcoming environment,” Provine said, saying he’s talked to other incubators about “the right level of relaxation to appeal to our target culture” where workers can “refresh themselves with the basics of life like coffee” and “it feels good to be there.”
“At maximum capacity, DISI operations will support more than $20 million in state and local tax revenues and $43 million in federal tax revenues annually,” according to UD.
The seven-member DISI board includes Provine and two representatives from each founder: Doug Muzyka, DuPont’s senior vice president and chief science and technology officer; Alexa Dembek, DuPont’s director of science and innovation; University of Delaware President Dennis Assanis, the board president; Charlie Riordan, UD’s vice president for research, innovation and scholarship; Doug Gramiak, chief of staff for Gov. John Carney; and Jeff Bullock, Delaware’s secretary of state.
In deinnovates.org videos, Riordan and Assanis referred to DISI’s entrepreneurial opportunities, with Assanis closing on how “this incubator will enable the dreams of our inventors and our students.”
Riordan, in a separate statement, sees opportunities to stem the exodus of individuals with technical talent from the state. “The Delaware Innovation Space will become a vibrant center for startups who are making products — materials and chemicals — and need access to these sort of laboratories and the tremendous human talent available in the region.”
Mueller anticipates the maximum value of the space will come in the first two years, with the long-term impact unknown. “If we graduate a company, we can’t force them to stay in Delaware,” he said.
Delaware Business Times Editor Christi Milligan contributed reporting to this article.