Editor’s Notebook: Delaware is fertile ground for hatching and developing ideas

By Peter Osborne

By Peter Osborne

Delaware is on at least two recent Innovation Top 10s (Gallup’s Wellbeing index and WalletHub during the first quarter) that say our strongest areas are projected STEM job demand; R&D spending per capita; and venture-capital funding per capita. We have the fourth- highest concentration of Ph.D.’s working in health, science and engineering, and the highest concentration of chemical engineers of any state. We’re ranked seventh in the Milken Institute’s 2018 State Technology and Science Index. And we have Forbes’ No. 7 World’s Most Innovative Companies (Incyte).

And then there’s Ben du Pont, who underscored what’s going on in Delaware during his keynote at our recent Family Owned Business Awards when he suggested that DuPont’s greatest legacy might be the number of great companies spawned by former employees (a view that could also be applied to MBNA and others with the growth of Delaware fintechs).

We are proud to share with you the 2019 issue of Innovation Delaware. We hope that you find it does a great job of showcasing what Gov. John Carney describes as “the diversity of Delaware’s innovation economy.”
It’s an occupational hazard for editors to start thinking about the next issue once they put the current one to bed. I’ve admittedly been thinking about Innovation Delaware 2020 for about two months now and want to share our plans for highlighting the ways that Delaware helps startups create investible companies.

I was very impressed with the Biotech Ecosystem Tour that the state put on for about 25 attendees at the huge BIO 2019 conference June 3-6. I was even more impressed with the alignment of the messaging, highlighted by the metaphorical group hug that Adesis CEO Andrew Cottone got for his effort to create a new tagline: “Delaware moves at the speed of entrepreneurs.” And, as was pointed out, Delaware was the only state at the BIO conference that could register a company on the spot.

There are still challenges. State and local municipalities still need to address delays in the permitting process for companies that want to get up and running quickly, notwithstanding the tour panel’s emphasis on projects that have been completed quickly. We still must overcome perceptions that our size is an impediment, despite the great case that can be made for easy access to government leaders. And access to talent remains a serious challenge, as is protecting intellectual property (both are issues everywhere). But we’re making progress, particularly as the Delaware Prosperity Partnership gets its sea legs.

Mike Bowman, who describes himself as a facilitator for entrepreneurs (“we don’t do the work, but we know who does”), introduced visitors to his Delaware Technology Park on the STAR Campus. He highlighted the success of SAS Nanotechnologies and its founder, Dr. Sumedh Surwade, who we coincidentally interview in this issue of the paper on page 5. There’s an obvious pride on the part of everyone involved in the efforts to market Delaware to early- and midstage startups and to venture-capital firms in the successes of people like Surwade.

A common theme

The idea for our approach to Innovation Delaware 2020 came from a conversation I had with Brian Tracy about a column he wrote for us in late March about the ChemTech industry. What surprised both of us were the number of people who read the article from Silicon Valley, Chicago, Boston, New York, and other high-tech hubs.

In subsequent conversations, Bryan made the case that the ChemTech sector needs investors from around the world to derisk their next acquisitions and partnerships, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is no better place to do that than in the backyard of those ChemTech giants. It’s also clear that we have many organizations here that will wrap these companies with world-leading resources and utilities to guide them in the right direction.

After additional conversations with major players, we’ve decided that the best way to make a popular publication great is to develop a strategy for making it more “helpful” to entrepreneurs and more useful for venture-capital firms, conference distribution, and as leave-behinds. So we’re going to create something that demonstrates that there’s a common theme that makes Delaware the First State for Innovation.

I’ve been soliciting columns from innovation thought leaders throughout the state that will run all year and then packaged in Innovation Delaware 2020. We’ll talk about the pillars of innovation (with case studies) and how they drive creation of investible companies:

Pipeline of innovators: How do we find, develop, and nurture them?

• Development of a core base of customers/stakeholders who allow these startups (and later-stage companies) to bring product to market.

• Impact of domain experts (e.g., DuPont, AstraZeneca, and MBNA retirees).

• Finding funding.

• Exit strategies, inclusive of getting both the creator and buyer to stay in Delaware.

We’ll also offer advice on pitching investors, protecting your intellectual property, and many other challenges that are outside many researchers’ areas of expertise. As Sumedh says in his interview, he would not be where he is today without the help of this state’s deep stable of advisers and supporters.

We’ll expand Innovation Delaware 2020 beyond the sectors that you’ll find in the 2019 edition with a greater focus on non-scientific forms of innovation, including public education.

Our BHAG is to be Delaware’s business publication of record. We’re on the right path, but we’re not there yet. We can’t achieve that goal without a strategy around supporting innovation and workforce development (which I’ll be talking more about soon for the 2019 issue of STUFF). If you’re interested in contributing to Innovation Delaware 2020, please drop me a note at [email protected].

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