There is no playbook for creating the right environment in a region that encourages entrepreneurship.
But, a grass-roots effort with support from Delaware’s business and education community is working on an online tool that may provide some answers.
HeliumIQ is a centralized online database of resources, opportunities and connections designed to coordinate Delaware’s entrepreneurial network. The concept, created by its two founders, Steve Boerner, and David Gritz, allows community organizers to shift from man-aging communities to scaling ecosystems.
Think of HeliumIQ as an online destination with the resources of a social network like LinkedIn powered by a powerful algorithm used in a dating or job-search app to offer real-time access to resources that meet the person’s current business needs.
The Delaware Business Roundtable and the University of Delaware Horn Program in Entrepreneurship are active supporters of the project.
“We put together a growth agenda for the state and one of the first goals is to help create and nurture an entrepreneurship ecosystem,” said Bob Perkins, president of Delaware Business Roundtable. “And HeliumIQ is a manifestation of that goal.”
Boerner explained that the ecosystem the Business Roundtable sought needs to be built around a call to action, a centralized hub for that ecosystem to reside. The hub he envisions uses cloud storage technology and allows for constant updates to deliver a more valuable user experience.
Jeffrey Fetterman, a board member of First State Innovation, a privately led initiative that focuses on increasing Delaware’s entrepreneurial capacity, likes the concept.
We’ve got a lot of eager and enthusiastic organizations that want to support the entrepreneurial economy,” he said. “The downside is there has not been sufficient coordination. If we can find a way to coordinate and connect all those organizations in a larger effort to pull together the entrepreneurial economy, we can make an impact.”
“HeliumIQ is a product that has been developed by an entrepreneur to serve the entrepreneurial community,” he added. “What it means to Delaware and the region is that it’s one of many organizations seeking ways to scale their businesses to support the entrepreneurial culture in Delaware.”
The Horn Program in Entrepreneurship at the University of Delaware was one of the first stakeholders to come aboard and provide funding and beta testing for the project. Rowan University and Bucks County Community College are also participants.
“Without the Horn program, we simply wouldn’t be where we are today,” Boerner said
Dan Freeman, Horn Program director, sees value in the idea, especially when it comes to helping students after graduation.
“For us, one of the challenges we have is trying to help students make valuable connections when they need them. We can either be in the middle of it, or have some metrics to observe it,” he said. “The promise of Helium is that it can help manage that external network.”
Freeman, a faculty member since 2000, and responsible for entrepreneurship curriculum for the last six years, said some Horn students participated in a Helium beta test last fall.
The application’s name reflects its goal.
“‘Helium’ represents the platform’s ability to help regions, private communities, and individuals collectively rise in unison. ‘IQ’ stands for the intelligent matching algorithms we’re working towards that will allow for that to happen more effectively,” Boerner said.
Boerner said the genesis of HeliumIQ came from his experience at managing a community around a network of business accelerators in partnership with higher education.
“I noticed an interest in unifying stakeholders and a lack of ability due to lack of technology to do it effectively. I imagined something if accomplished could bring value to small communities like mine and a value to regions that hold that community,” he said.
The design of HeliumIQ is the result of more than 150 product presentations and feedback his team has received over the past several months. “My role has been to be a good listener,” he said.
“It’s not the platforms that fail, its putting pressure on users to maintain current data. Not realistic to expect that. We’ve built in proprietary designs to help maintain current and accurate directory. This tool within our eco-system will be maintained by HeliumIQ staff at the benefit of grass-roots projects. There will be some behind-the-scenes maintenance and there is.”
The HeliumIQ team consists of the two founders, four full-time developers and paid interns. Initially there will be four offices including one at the University of Delaware, with headquarters based in downtown Wilmington later this summer.
Boerner said before they started to write the Helium code, they pre-sold the idea to higher education systems, and received substantial seed money from other Delaware investors.
“Everyone is trying to organize the ecosystems that are trying to form, and to our knowledge we’ve not come across a company that is attempting to do it in the fashion we are,” Boerner said.