People to Watch 2020

We received more than 100 nominations of people from across the state who DBT readers believe will make news in 2020. We excluded politicians running for office in the coming year. While some will be familiar names, we also looked for nominees whose stories will be new to you and asked them to supply favorite photos that show their personalities.


Jeffrey T. Benson Jr.
Managing Partner, Prominent Insurance

Seaford

Benson mentors young men from Seaford Middle School and Seaford High School every week in what he calls The Gentlemen’s Club, focusing on what he calls “the Five Senses of Leadership (self, value, consequences, power, and respect).” A graduate of Leadership Delaware in 2013, Benson also brought together more than 400 fathers and students for “Donuts with Dudes,” an initiative that will be expanded throughout the Seaford School District in 2020. In 2019, he earned his MBA in organizational leadership from Wilmington University, and will start classes next year toward his doctorate in business. During 2019, he worked with La Mar Gunn Sr. of Gunn Wealth Management and Wilmington City Treasurer Velda Jones-Potter to create the Youth Shareholder Initiative, which selected 30 youths from across Delaware who became “Owners” of WSFS Bank (the oldest community bank in the region) and received five shares of stock. The goal was to plant a seed to educate them on the importance of investing early and creating generational wealth for years to come.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

I’m currently working with a group of investors on a project in Milton to develop land and provide housing for 31 first-time home buyers in the area. We’re currently in the planning phase and working on securing the funds to get the project off the ground. He is also starting his doctorate in 2020.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

For my education, the biggest hurdle will be to dedicate enough time to be successful in my studies. For the project, it will be securing the funds to make the housing project successful.


Andrew Braune
President, Danio Connect

Newark

Braune says his biggest accomplishment this past year was launching Danio Connect, an online, grassroots, global network of trusted nonprofit, government, and business organizations that help families find assistance and hope. An organization’s impact is limited by awareness, and our technology addresses that problem by amplifying their voices to create a deeper, more meaningful relationship with these families and their communities. He said he was honored to be asked to join the boards of the Brain Injury Association of Delaware and the Arthritis Foundation boards in 2019. 

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

Grow our platform nationwide and ultimately across the globe. By launching our team of liaisons, which we call Connectors, we will forge relationships between organizations. This creates a forum where organizations can share ideas, information, and successes to have a greater impact on families in need.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

Amplifying our own impact. Creating awareness and adoption of our new platform. It is important that we make the community aware and provide a trusted network that we built to improve lives.


Desa Burton
Executive Director, Zip Code Wilmington

Wilmington

Desa Burton (arms outstretched) with the current Zip Code Wilmington class.

Burton said the highlight of her 2019 was taking the helm as the new Executive Director at Zip Code Wilmington, adding that “receiving the awesome news from founders/board members Ben DuPont and Jim Stewart was also the best phone call of 2019!”

What was your biggest goals for 2020?

My biggest goal of 2020 is the successful launch of Zip Code Wilmington’s new course of study in Data Engineering & Analytics. This will double our capacity to increase tech talent in the Wilmington area with highly desired career growth and opportunities with our corporate partners. 

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

As a nonprofit, Zip Code Wilmington’s mission is to help Delaware compete globally for technical jobs while helping our graduates increase their lifetime earning potential. In 2020, we are focusing on increasing the number of corporate partners connected with our program so that we can also increase the number of students that we accept and train in our program.


Patrick Callahan
Managing Partner and Founder, CompassRed

Centreville

Callahan says the highlight of his year was helping his data and analytics agency grow in ways he’s never imagined. He said CompassRed reaches beyond the traditional digital agency and supports clients in building data-driven strategies, helping them navigate the world of artificial intelligence. “We love when we host a meetup on AI and tons of people from Delaware show up,” he said, adding that another 2019 highlight was being part of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership board, an organization he said is “helping the state of Delaware grow well beyond its borders.”

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

We’d like to save a life using our skills at CompassRed. We’d also like to grow the company to another region but bring the work back to Delaware where our flag is firmly planted. We also look forward to becoming more active in the Pete DuPont Freedom Foundation, which is making some real change in the region.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

On the company growth side, we’re in an exciting area that’s new and growing rapidly. The world needs to understand the practical applications of artificial intelligence and that takes time. It’s similar to the days when websites were new and you had to explain the concept of the web. We’re all still learning.


Brendan Cooke
General Director, OperaDelaware

North Wilmington

Nominator: Andrew DiSabatino Jr. (Board Chairman). “Brendan has elevated OperaDelaware’s stature with consistent national and international press reviews, which in turn increased funding opportunities including four years of competitive National Endowment for the Arts funding and increased investment from The Presser Foundation in Philadelphia. OperaDelaware’s reinvention inspired Presser to double the foundation’s annual unrestricted support, delivering more than $100,000 in capital and special project funding. The artistic success and acclaim of the company, coupled with diligent efforts in both the administrative office and the boardroom, set the stage for positive growth: individual contributed revenue has increased to proportions much closer to major opera companies in other cities, and OperaDelaware’s future has brightened, unlike those of larger companies facing far dimmer prospects. Between 2008 and 2015, 20 prominent American opera companies shuttered their doors as a result of the national economic downturn, major shifts in corporate and other contributions, and cultural changes. Under Brendan’s leadership, OperaDelaware emerged from that treacherous landscape with a future that is artistically engaging, economically impactful, and more fiscally sound than it has been in years.

High-potential leaders display a high degree of interest in company goals and engage in future plans and strategy. They are “all in” and are invested in the future. Brendan’s vision, especially in our 75th anniversary year, brings expanded programming with the addition of a fall opera to complement the acclaimed spring festival. OperaDelaware is on a mission to mean more things to more people. As such, we’ll be offering one of our most musically diverse seasons yet, with numerous community outreach programs in the works. Brendan continues to steer the OperaDelaware brand around pitfalls and rallies the Board and the employees to seize opportunities and establish impactful relations with our patrons, partners and artists.”


Edwin Estevez
Pastor, Grace Church (UME)

Convening Minister, Riverfront Church
Wilmington

Pastor Estevez says his biggest accomplishment in 2019 was “putting a team together that will help lead our faith community and organization in a way that prioritizes community impact, mission alignment, and sustainability. We made nine staff hires, transformed our self-governing model to one that was more transparent, invited open dialogue, fostered creativity and momentum, and increased volunteer participation. This is my first time leading an organization anywhere near this size, so I had to learn quickly and fail fast, seek the advice from others, read a lot about leadership, and pray for grace … Every. Single. Day.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

I am really excited about:

  • Supporting the vulnerable: Our partnership with the Wilmington Alliance in launching a kitchen Incubator that addresses the root causes of poverty by providing affordable access to people who want to launch a catering/restaurant business or want to learn culinary skills, empowering them toward economic independence.
  • Going green/creation care/ecojustice: Transforming our campus with a complete LED overhaul, updating our building and appliances to be more energy-efficient, and reducing our plastics wherever possible. We will also be looking at solar technology, water capture systems to prevent storm runoff, and a community garden.
  • Radical hospitality: Launching Grace Cafe, in partnership with Riverfront Church and Friendship House, which creates a “Third Space,” where there will be great coffee, a welcoming art space for conversation and sabbath reflection, and a Friendship House partner who can help someone in a time of need, over a cup of coffee.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

The usual suspects: finances, time, people, and lack of imagination. We are mindful of raising the necessary funds, putting in the time and energy to accomplish these goals, and making sure to involve people in the process through invitation and communication. Most of all, we need to foster the imagination to creatively resolve challenges as they come up.


Bill Freeborn
Executive Director, Wilmington Land Bank.

Woodbrook

A Delaware resident for 35 years, Bill Freeborn has served in the public, political, private and nonprofit sectors. In his current role, he is leading the Land Bank – a public/private partnership and nonprofit entity – to return the city’s inventory of vacant, blighted and abandoned properties to productive use. Today with an estimated total of nearly 2,700 properties, the Land Bank, the city and its for-profit and nonprofit business partners are focused on what it takes to make a difference after nearly 60 years of neglect. After joining the Land Bank in February 2019, Bill was faced with two tasks: finalizing the developer partner selection for the much anticipated 9th Street Revitalization Program and completing the 2019 application for the Delaware State Housing Authority (DSHA) Strong Neighborhoods funding. Both were completed within his first 30 days on the job. From there, the focus was on understanding the extensive inventory, the physical status of the properties and their concentration within five distinct areas of the city. Over the course of the rest of 2019, the Land Bank moved 45 properties from abandonment and blight to productive reuse; demolished an equal number of properties that were structurally unsound and deemed unsafe; established a citywide community garden program; introduced the city’s new homestead program; and built stronger relationships with the various public and private partnerships. 

What are your goals for 2020?

Complete and sell the properties rehabilitated on 9th Street; facilitate and support East Side revitalization efforts with the Land Bank’s partners; continue and expand the WNCLB scattered site redevelopment efforts, doubling the results from 2019; support the expansion of new local developers, cost-effective construction techniques and a new vision for Wilmington housing; and continue to focus on improving the quality of life for the residents of our city’s most challenged areas.

What are the biggest obstacles you face in achieving these goals?

Establishing trust while helping everyone understand that the excitement for our city is so real and unlike anything I’ve seen in my 30 years in Wilmington! The problems we face with blight didn’t appear overnight. They are rooted in 60 years of demographic change, the reduction in the city’s population from 140,000 to 72,000 today. How do you deal with the abandoned homes that once housed this larger population, while reshaping them and/or recreating them to meet the demands of today’s homeowners and renters? We also need to work to gain support from City Council, the city’s Dover delegation and the General Assembly, overall.


Sury Gupta
Co-Founder and CEO, 360VR Technology

Co-founder, Intellecta
Bear

360VR Technology received a lot of attention in 2019. Its primary product uses 3D modeling, drone imaging and intensive analysis of physical buildings to provide full information interfaces to local emergency services and building management. CEO Sury Gupta, who will graduate from the University of Delaware in 2020, says his biggest accomplishment in 2019 was “building a team to tackle the big problem with critical building information. We are extremely proud to have built a solution that helps both first responders and building staff have better access and understanding of their buildings, saving time and money.” One measure of the company’s success is that it won $81,000 in competitions across the country and was awarded multiple grants during this past year. “Having the support from Horn Entrepreneurship and mentors like Vince DiFelice and Ted Foltyn was crucial, and helped to guide us through this process,” Gupta says.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

Our biggest goal in 2020 is to begin to implement our solution at an enterprise scale. For us, this means working with large property groups and universities to make sure we are providing value to as many people as possible. We also want to continue developing relationships with organizations already in the security space, to complement their solutions and make technology like ours more commonplace. We want our solution to become standardized across the state so that building occupants and first responders from Wilmington to Laurel can feel the benefits.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

Our biggest challenge will be navigating this mature space as a young team. We often find ourselves in boardrooms with people twice our age, so it’s really important that we are able to articulate all the work that’s led us here. We have worked incredibly hard, interviewing hundreds of first responders, building staff, legislators, insurance, technology, etc., to be able to better understand the space and be able to be a positive contributor to all these fields. We have learned so much in this process and are very excited to keep learning and keep finding opportunities to innovate and create value. At the end of the day, we know that if we really understand someone’s problem, we can design a solution that will make their lives easier.


Stephen Hoops
CEO, Predictive

Analytics Group
Newark

Hoops said revenues for his company, which designs strategies for clients by analyzing segments to identify trends from data received from different environments, increased by more than 50% for the third year in a row, and the company became the first non-University of Delaware occupant in the Tower at UD’s STAR campus. Predictive Analytics has been recognized as one of UD’s most promising new ventures two years in a row.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

I am looking to move PAG into the fourth year of the business and continue to expand into new verticals. We now have clients across five business verticals, while targeting new clients in two additional verticals in 2020.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

Whenever you move into new verticals, there is a “getting to know you” period. We are well established within the financial services, gaming and the marketing world today, where we collectively have more than 120 years of experience in financial services and marketing. Gaming took time building contacts, our reputation and some pro-bono work to establish ourselves. Health care and sports are moving well today but had similar hurdles early on. As we grow cross-vertically, we are starting to see less “time to market” from initial contact within an industry to a first paid engagement. Patience, a healthy balance of EQ and IQ, humility and passion are the keys to expansion into new markets. It also helps that we all enjoy what we do on a daily basis.


Robbie Jester
Chef, High 5 Hospitality

Newark

Jester, who won on the “Beat Bobby Flay” program on the Food Network in 2016, had a great dessert but couldn’t beat a team of inmates from the James T. Vaughn Correction Center in Smyrna late in the year that he’s been mentoring as part of his ongoing efforts to reduce Delaware’s high recidivism rate. He calls 2019 a year of “impact and change in my life and our organizations.” He has told DBT on more than one occasion that he believes “the tired idea of it’s hard to find good people these days,” is only true when organizations exhibit a lack of resourcefulness. “There are great people out there looking for an opportunity,” he said. “We just have to widen our vision. Programs like ProStart (a program for high-school students), Project NewStart, the Culinary School at the Food Bank, and other support initiatives with the Department of Health and Social Services are vital in creating a pathway of talent into our companies. I’m supremely proud of what has begun in 2019 and where it is headed in 2020.”

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

Our goals for 2020 are in three areas: recruitment, education, and creativity. We want to expand our exposure to potential team members by strengthening our processes and the relationships of these programs. We want to work towards doubling our tenure of team members. We believe that the way to do this is through recognition and education. We have begun the process both in High 5 Hospitality and my company Full Circle Food to invest in development of our core team members. High 5 Hospitality has developed the Leadership Academy, which is in Phase 1 right now and has been received extremely well by those who’ve gone through the program. We will roll out two more phases in 2020 as well as begin Foundations classes for team members that will focus on life skills as well as professional skills. 2020 will also see the beginning of culinary fundamentals courses for our team members to get direct instruction from me and my team in basic cooking principles. Then there is creativity and looking at what our competition does well and engineer ways to outperform them while keeping in mind industry trends and tried-and-true ways to make an amazing experience.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

Designing ways to maintain or reignite enthusiasm throughout the year. We all can get caught in the busy trap but we are actively designing ways to light our own fire throughout the year. The best is yet to come. In terms of some of our other initiatives, programs like Project NewStart deal specifically with those who have a justice-involved background. We believe in these types of second chances because for the large majority of people, we are not defined by the worst thing we’ve ever done. A bad decision at 19 years old doesn’t mean you’re a bad human for life.


Davida P. Jones
CEO, Woman 2 Woman LLC

Senior Brand Strategist and Director of Client Services, The Ascendant Group
New Castle

Davida P. Jones was nominated for People to Watch primarily because of her 12-week course, Embrace Grace, which helps single expectant mothers and single mothers develop coping skills to decrease stress and depression before and after pregnancy. With Woman 2 Woman LLC, she’s developed a “healthy-mind driven program focusing on women transformation and empowerment.” She counts her 2019 accomplishments as teaching the Embrace Grace class, being promoted to director of client services at The Ascendant Group and helping oversee business growth of 50%, and joining the board of advisers for the Goldey Beacom College Doctoral of Business Administration program.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

Bringing statewide recognition to the mental health of single mothers and single expecting mothers and getting the state to provide free mental health counseling to all mothers; reducing the number of single moms, providing healing to broken families, and ensuring a bright future for generations to come; and releasing my book: “Pregnant and Abandoned: How to Recover, Survive, and Thrive while Raising your Child Alone.”

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

Finding the resources and funding to bring awareness to the mental health of single mothers and not being able to bring recognition or awareness to single mothers.


Eric Kmiec and Rohan Kanchana
Gene Editing Institute, Christiana Hospital

Middletown and Hockessin

So you’re a 15-year-old high school sophomore with an interest in using your coding skills in the professional world. With the help of your physician father, you apply for a job at his hospital and are offered an after-school position in the high-profile Gene Editing Institute. After a few months of learning the algorithms, you take the lead on developing a computer program that will enable scientists to see the impact gene editing (a technology known as CRISPR) has on tumor cells and what do you do?

Create one of the best programs in the world for pulling apart genetic footprints so scientists can easily document how they’ve identified individual anomalies and fix them.

The name of Rohan Kanchana, the developer of the computer program and a junior this year at Newark Charter School, may also be familiar to non-scientists. He’s a two-time Delaware Geography Bee champion (as a sixth-grader and eighth-grader) and was state runner-up in seventh grade. But it’s the coding – 5,000 lines for this project – that differentiated him in 2019 and will keep his attention in 2020 as he focuses on continuing to improve the program and deciding which university he’ll attend in September 2021.

“This was not a high-school science fair project,” said Eric Kmiec, director of the Gene Editing Institute at ChristianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute and himself a 2020 People to Watch honoree. “He was a bright kid, but we had no expectations. There are a lot of smart high-school kids – he’s in the top 5% nationwide – but what differentiates him is his ability to solve a problem. We needed for something like this to be created, and it was something that senior researchers at Cal-Berkeley are also working on.”

In fact, Kmiec said, there are “people going into old gold minds and finding bacteria and then using Rohan’s program to separate the genetic footprints. There is literally no end to this. But perhaps even more important, this CRISPR technology – which some people have compared to Spell Check on a Word document – is simple and Rohan is helping students at Del Tech and elsewhere to use his program.”

As for Kmiec and the rest of the 22-person team at the Gene Editing Institute (one of whom was also nominated as a People to Watch), 2020 could be the year they begin human testing of a CRISPR therapy to treat non-small cell lung cancer. Approval of the proposed clinical trial by the FDA would continue to position the Institute as a leader in bringing the technology to patients in Delaware and around the country and world. 


Renata Kowalczyk
Chief Executive Officer, Wilmington Alliance

Wilmington

Kowalczyk sees the successful merger of two influential nonprofit organizations, Wilmington Leaders Alliance (WLA) and Wilmington Renaissance Corp. (WRC), as her biggest accomplishment in 2019 because of its potential to “have a great impact on our city and create a strong platform for alliances and partnerships with other organizations.” Kowalczyk moved into Delaware’s nonprofit world after nearly five years at J.P. Morgan Chase, where she managed risk governance and controls functions with nine staff members across five locations across all nine lines of business within Consumer & Community Banking (CCB).

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

While continuing the existing commitments of both preceding organizations, Wilmington Alliance will work with our 40-plus investors/members, the city, our partners and the wider community to identify and initiate key targeted projects that will lead to greater economic development and inclusion. Some of those initiatives are already in progress, while others are in “scoping” or pre-funding stages.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

Identifying and implementing overarching data collection and reporting processes (i.e. creating an Economic Development and Inclusion Dashboard for the City). Consolidation of this kind of data will facilitate goal-setting and regular honest assessment of the impact and effectiveness of projects and interventions that are in planning stages or already put in place.


Mark Lally
President and CEO,

First State Compassion
Lewes

As a member of law enforcement for more than 20 years, Mark Lally says that his only interaction with marijuana was arresting those selling or using it. But that all changed in 2012 when he met Montel Williams, a popular television and veteran personality afflicted with multiple sclerosis, who was using medical marijuana to ease the painful symptoms of his chronic disease. “I literally faced the reality that the medicinal properties of cannabis could change someone’s quality of life, and that discovery changed the course of my own life. I became determined to bring this restorative medication to Delawareans who are in pain.” He says his biggest accomplishment in 2019 was the “growth of our Wilmington and Lewes locations from 250 patients in 2015 to bringing pain relief and enhanced quality of life to 9,000 this year. We also celebrated the near completion of a significant build-out of our infrastructure, from a 150-plant allowance to what it takes to meet the demand of our patients.”

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

To continue to expand and increase our growing capabilities to meet demand and to be ready should Delaware legalize the sale and use of medical marijuana edibles. As a result of our growth, we plan on creating 56 more jobs in 2020 to add to our current staff of 87.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

Education hasn’t kept up with the demand for medical marijuana. Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with anything related to marijuana, even for medicinal purposes. We will continue to educate and inform the Delaware public, medical and business communities about the life-changing benefits of this plant.


Kelvin Lee
Director, Manufacturing USA National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL)

Gore Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Delaware
Newark

A decorated scientist who spent several years at the Biotechnology Institute in Zurich, Lee spearheaded NIIMBL’s creation and was able to create a consortium of education and business leaders in support of the bid. NIIMBL is dedicated to biopharmaceutical manufacturing, which is the smaller of the two categories of medications. Most pills and tablets are manufactured using chemistry, but NIIMBL is focused on those manufactured using biology, which is used in vaccines and cell therapies. Lee said his biggest accomplishment in 2019 was participating on a team that is finishing the new Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center at UD’s STAR campus. We are ready to move in starting in January 2020.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

Looking towards growing the impact that our biopharmaceutical innovation institute (aka NIIMBL) is having locally by increasing our partnerships with local businesses and helping develop our talent pool in Delaware for biopharma manufacturing jobs by starting to offer training programs.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

We don’t have enough of the physical infrastructure set up to do some of the hands-on training programs in a meaningful way, but our new building will help provide some of the needed facilities. Beyond that, our challenges are mostly around continuing to grow our team at NIIMBL and expand our capabilities. But we are extremely fortunate to be in Delaware where I have found that the community is always ready to support each other and where organizations and individuals are always open to conversations about ways to partner and collaborate. Our future is very bright!


Jennifer Lowrey
VP and Head of the Wilmington Trust Wealth Innovation Lab

Wilmington

In 2019, Lowrey’s team kicked off the WealthLab, a standalone unit within Wealth Management that uses data, software, analytics and machine learning to deeply understand the bank’s clients and their needs. She says, “It’s one way that we are using innovation, along with traditional methods, to gather insights and deliver the best advice and solutions to our clients. This year, we partnered with a third party and built a predictive model that can help identify client issues with incredible accuracy. We also implemented best-in-class tools and capabilities to measure success and ensure that we are understanding the client’s point of view and what they might be experiencing, so that we can serve them better. This was a year of building the foundation for what we hope will become the innovation “nerve center” for Wilmington Trust and a model for new ways of working to deepen our client relationships.”

What are your goals for 2020?

My main goal for 2020 is to create a safe space to innovate and grow our capabilities and learnings, so that we can offer the deepest insights into our client’s needs and understand the full range of opportunities. We will launch an internal “Shark Tank” event for employees across the bank to pitch ideas for non-traditional offerings based on the insights and data that we have been gathering. It’s exciting to marry analytics to human design thinking. It produces inconceivable results and an energy around innovation. But this is not innovation for innovation sake. This is about using our curiosity, critical thinking and technology to make a difference in people’s lives.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

A propensity for people to avoid and fear failure. Innovation requires failure. Helping the organization embrace a philosophy of risking, failing, and learning the way to success, balanced with good judgment, is likely our biggest challenge as we head into 2020. But by focusing on the moments that matter most to clients, we can transform traditional wealth management into delightful, meaningful interactions that makes a difference in their lives.


Scott Malfitano
Vice President, CSC

Chair, Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation
Rockland

Scott Malfitano has a lot on his plate. In addition to his responsibilities at CSC, he chairs the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, which is working with local startups and entrepreneurs on its annual Reinventing Delaware competition; chairs CSC’s Intern Delaware initiative; serves on the executive committee and a member of the board of governors for the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce; and is a board member of the B Positive Foundation. Through his role at CSC, Malfitano and his team continued the company’s business expansion in Delaware and expanded its office space at its Marvel location “on time and on budget, which will enable us to hire new co-workers in Delaware.”

What was your biggest accomplishment in 2019?

In 2019, CSC became a founding member and launched Intern Delaware to attract and retain intellectual capital made up of young professional talent with a focus on connecting summer interns working in Delaware with the local culture, economy, business leaders, and opportunities. In today’s highly competitive environment, more than 70% of graduates from local colleges and universities are moving outside of Delaware to start their careers, creating a talent drain in our state. To tackle this challenge, we organized 21 companies to focus on retaining young talent in Delaware. Intern Delaware will help support companies throughout the state, providing their interns with a series of experiential marketing events that highlight Delaware and run parallel with their summer internship programs. These events include bringing almost 400 interns together once a week for events that highlight the best of Delaware: from access to our beaches, the Delaware Riverfront, and Hagley Museum to meeting government and business leaders, to events including c-Suite executives and a young leaders forum.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

After the first of the year, CSC will be announcing a major investment in the City of Wilmington that will create new opportunities for our existing and future employees. This multimillion-dollar economic development project will focus on helping attract new talent to Delaware and provide a go-to destination for small, medium, and large businesses looking to conduct work in Delaware.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

While there may be many logistical challenges as we continue to expand, I do not see any as an insurmountable obstacle. We have already begun to address those challenges by working with business leaders in the Delaware community. The growth and development are not obstacles but opportunities to continue to bring individuals and companies together, while promoting the benefits of living, working, and investing in the First State. We all need to share the Delaware story and the significant benefits of our state: whether it is our regional location, access to business and government, or numerous investments in Wilmington, including new restaurants, hotels, housing, and community development programs.


Jacqueline Means
Founder, Girls Empowerment

STEM Initiative
Wilmington

For most high-school seniors, being named a T-Mobile Changemaker and receiving $2,000 in seed funding for a project called Empowering Girls to be Tomorrow’s Scientists would be the highlight for the year. But for 17-year-old Jacqueline “STEM Queen” Means, having the chance to win an additional $3,000 (and maybe $10,000 if she’s the grand-prize winner), that was just her December highlight. That recognition complements her initiative to inspire inner-city girls to embrace STEM through hands-on workshops. But let her tell you about her year (which included being crowned Miss Delaware’s Outstanding Teen and being awarded the Governor’s Youth Service Award.)

Tell us about what you did in 2019.

I’ve had such a great year! I’ve had many incredible opportunities, including being selected to be a Disney Dreamer, a T-Mobile Changemaker, a HerLead Fellow, and a Bank of America Student Leader, as well as being featured on “The Steve Harvey Show,” the “Today” show, “Dr. Oz” and “Access Hollywood.” I feel very fortunate to have been blessed with so many incredible opportunities, but the reason I was able to have these is because of my work to better my community. In truth, my biggest accomplishment of 2019 is using every single opportunity I’ve been given to bring positive attention to my hometown of Southbridge, as well as bring awareness to how important it is to get young girls, especially girls of color, interested in STEM fields. Science, technology, engineering, and math skills are necessary for anyone to thrive in the 21st century, making it imperative that today’s youth are capable and prepared to live in the inevitable STEM-forward future.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

To graduate from the Delaware Military Academy and start college, so I can begin my journey to becoming a neurosurgeon. Another major goal of mine for 2020 is to continue expanding my STEM initiative to lower Delaware so I can positively impact even more young girls.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

First, staying focused! College has a lot to offer, both class-wise and student life-wise. And second, regarding expanding my initiative, I think continuing to finance my events will be my largest obstacle. I hope that won’t become a problem, because for many years, my mom paid out of her own pocket for my events and I don’t want to ask her to do that again. Hopefully, the organizations that have started to fund my STEM events (Chemours, JP Morgan Chase, Verizon) will see the impact I am having and will continue to do so.


Mark Nauman
Co-Founder, Pilottown Engineering

Milton

In 2019, Mark, along with business partner Jim Baker, founded Pilottown Engineering, a structural engineering consulting firm in Lewes. A graduate of Milford High School and University of Delaware College of Engineering, Mark has been working in the consulting field with Baker for 12 years. Although Pilottown Engineering has collaborated with clients around the United States to create modern and sustainable buildings, he said that as Sussex County natives, the most rewarding aspect of this venture has been building quality infrastructure in the community that they are a part of. Some of Pilottown’s recent notable projects include: the new amphitheater structure for Freeman Stage, renovations to the Dogfish Head Brewery, a minor league baseball stadium in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and a seven-story hotel and restaurant in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

We will look to continue to expand business partnerships in Delaware and growth with clients in new areas. As with any growth, the goal for Pilottown will be to make expansion sustainable and ensure that client relationships remain the first priority. Pilottown Engineering is built on a foundation of collaboration. Being proactive, efficient and hands-on with projects and clients is what drives me every day.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

The last Recession hit the construction and design industry particularly hard. While the threat of an economic slowdown is always a concern, we learned from the recession how to be better prepared for this ever-looming threat. Being diversified across various sectors and geographic regions also helps us be ready to weather the storm if that time comes.


Cynthia Pritchard
President and CEO, Philanthropy Delaware

Wilmington

Pritchard arrived in Delaware in 2017 with the mission to advance philanthropy in the First State. With more than 30 years of experience working in health care, finance, government, nonprofit and grantmaking for various organizations and communities, she was described as a visionary on multiple People to Watch nominations, with nominators talking about her ability to create collaborative and implementable solutions with a focus on the community and one describing her as someone with “more energy than 10 Energizer bunnies.” Pritchard says that “Delaware has a strong history of corporate and family philanthropy that began at a time when cable trolley cars traversed Wilmington that remains strong today at twice the national average, and highlighted a number of new priorities in 2019 focused on “Advancing Philanthropy by Connecting Stakeholders to Impact Delaware.’

“Our signature programs ‘Large Campaign Panel’ and ‘Women’s Give’ events are becoming the gold standard in Delaware.” Her focus is on topics like economic inclusion, poverty simulation, leadership in philanthropy, and a program that a number of nominators mentioned where she brought world-renowned philanthropic Futurist Trista Harris to town in October. In addition, Philanthropy Delaware launched new partnerships with DANA, Delaware State University, state government, and the Federal Reserve, and late this year it launched a page that curates grants from sources across the nation to allow local nonprofits to effectively and efficiently access future funding.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

Philanthropy Delaware celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2020 with a new vision for a “just, vibrant, and thriving Delaware through effective, strategic and impactful philanthropy.” 2020 programming will expand our work on innovation and collaboration. Look for the launch of pilot project with Candid and Policy Maps that will be a model for the nation. The world of philanthropy is changing. Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success.”


Dionna Sargent
VP, Community Development, Cinnaire

Wilmington

Sargent is responsible for advancing community-based comprehensive development objectives in Wilmington neighborhoods. She recently led and coordinated the creation of Equitable Wilmington, a collaborative between Cinnaire, True Access Capital, and the NCALL Loan Fund that is aimed at promoting inclusive growth in Wilmington’s West, East, and Northeast neighborhoods. Under her leadership, Equitable Wilmington recently received a competitive $4 million JPMorgan Chase Pro Neighborhood grant that will be used to support affordable housing development, small businesses, and community facilities in Wilmington.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

We need to make sure there is alignment around our work with community development in Wilmington. We need stakeholders at the table, working toward the same goal. As you think about the range between self-interest and common interest, we need to be closer to common interest and we all need to be rowing in the same direction. Most important, we need to develop the strategy for success in the collaborative over the next few months. We’d like to use the $4 million from JPMorgan Chase to attract another $29 million in funding.

What do you see as your biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

First, raising capital to support transformational development projects in communities that have experienced disinvestment for a long period of time. This is typically a big challenge we face in community development. Second, creating alignment between stakeholders around a shared vision and approach to developing meaningful, long-term solutions to complex problems.


Wendy Scott
Co-owner and Chief Strategy Officer, Blue Blaze Associates

Newark

Blue Blaze Associates recently was notified that four of its projects were winners in the 2019 MarCom Awards, an international creative competition for marketing and communications professionals that attracted more than 6,500 entries this year from the United States and 19 other countries. But Scott was nominated for her work launching “Conversations with Women Making a Difference.” This event series features inspiring discussions with panels of influential women, and Blue Blaze produces these events as a community service and all proceeds are donated to nonprofits in Delaware.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

To build on the momentum we created in the first season of “Conversations with Women Making a Difference.” We kick off Year 2 on Feb. 6 with a great panel: Claudia Pena Porretti, CEO of Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay; Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings; and Lossie Freeman, director of corporate partnerships for Zip Code Delaware. We’re excited that Fund for Women will be joining the partnership producing the “Conversations” series, a partnership that already includes NEWS4Women and the Delaware Art Museum, and Delaware Business Times as one of our media sponsors. Another important goal is continuing to build Blue Blaze’s reputation as a creative agency with heart, led by smart, strategic women who listen deeply and deliver effective marketing solutions for our clients.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle for achieving those goals?

One of the things that could throw a wrench in the success of the “Conversations” series would be a snowstorm on Feb. 6. You can be sure I’ll be watching the forecast very carefully in early February and hoping Mother Nature cooperates with our plans. As the co-owner of a small business in a deadline-driven industry, I wish I could add a few more hours to my day. Looking ahead, one of my challenges will be managing the growth of our company while continuing to deliver exceptional quality. It’s a great feeling to know each person at Blue Blaze is pulling the oars together in the same direction.


Jill K. Slader
Director, International Montessori School

Bear

Slader says her biggest accomplishment in 2019 is “a bit layered,” and involves coming into her own. “I started to take charge of my own story [including] acquiring the director’s position at International Montessori Schools in Wilmington and then co-hosting, co-organizing, and speaking at the school for its first TEDx talk and organizing other edutainment events. In the midst of all that, I was accepted and began a master’s program in Counseling Psychology, all while being a partner and a parent.” As CEO of Maverick Class LLC, Slader has been the creative force behind TEDxGoldeyBeacomCollege, TEDxGoldeyBeacomCollegeSalon on Women in Entrepreneurship, TEDxDover, TEDxHarlem, Firefly CHATs (the Firefly Music Festival’s first speaker series on site), and the student entrepreneurship incubator program with DHSS.

What are your biggest goals for 2020?

I feel that it is my responsibility to create the world I want my children to take stewardship of in their future. I’m working with a cohort to put together a program to address sex education beginning in the early childhood years, emphasizing a sense of self, the ideology of consent, and ownership of one’s body. Within Montessori education, we promote a sense of self and healthy boundaries. As someone who can closely relate to the traumas associated with sexual assault, and as a lifetime educator, I can clearly see the cross-section where a real opportunity for change lies. I am also working toward organizing a TEDx event that would align with the exhibit “What Were You Wearing?” at the University of Kansas. That exhibit features outfits that rape survivors were wearing when they were assaulted.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle to achieving those goals?

The biggest obstacle … particularly for women, comes from the multitude of hats we wear – mother, wife, daughter, job title – and then add in personal and social missions. It’s a full plate! With that level of juggling, you are going to drop a ball every once in a while. However, the most important thing is to realize that anything that one drops can simply be picked right back up again.


Second Chances Farm
Wilmington

Second Chances Farm is one of the most-visible programs for reducing recidivism in Delaware. The stars at the dedication of its new 47,500-square-foot facility were the 17 former state or federal inmates from Delaware who have farming jobs — and futures as entrepreneurs — waiting for them when they’re released Peace by Piece Executive Director Saad Soliman, who has rebuilt his life after being incarcerated and was also nominated for this People to Watch feature, outlined how much time each has served or the substance abuse issues they’ve overcome. He talked about the efforts to reunite with their families. One candidate met his 6-year-old for the first time the day before. Soliman talked about how some want to make their mothers proud, while others are focused on their children, including a few who have older children in the military. Ten of the former inmates in this photo are part of the first group starting 12 weeks of training on Jan. 6. Six of the other seven will be in the next group and one has accepted a $19 per hour job with another company. | Photo by Alessandra Nicole


Tamara Varella, Malcolm Coley, and Newdy Felton
Co-owners of The WIN Factory

Newark, and Bear, respectively

A conversation with Tamara Varella, Malcolm Coley, and Newdy Felton can be a bit exhausting, particularly when you ask the simple question, “So what are you guys up to?”

  • There’s their new coworking space and incubator – the first African American-owned coworking space in Delaware – that opened in early December at 300 Martin Luther King Blvd.
  • They’re building a community through the WIN Factory Wealth League that recognizes there is a lack of resources and a community of support for under-represented entrepreneur and seeks to level the playing field (the community meets on Wednesday nights).
  • There are the quarterly new-member startup classes that cover the basics of entrepreneurship with tips on how to navigate and WIN in Wilmington.
  • They’re developing some 2020 conferences and workshops that will include a crowdfunding workshop with Bear-based FundingFuel CEO Pedro Moore where members can pitch their ideas and startups to investors and other community members.
  • They’ll introduce an investment group in 2020 that will invest in real estate together, despite the  fact that some of their members haven’t even purchased their own home yet.

And on the day of their interview, they were in final preparations for a scoping session for their Reinventing Delaware project idea – an IFL Gaming system they believe will jump-start and maintain economic development through the monetization of gaming tournaments, gaming arenas, and e-sports leagues, with a critical side benefit of attracting and exposing future workforces to opportunities in science and technology careers.

“Entrepreneurs often don’t come from entrepreneurial families and generational wealth,” said Varella, who has been a consultant to inner-city entrepreneurs for two decades but shifted about four years ago to focus on Wilmington businesses to help eradicate the narrative that you cannot be successful in Wilmington. “Many people come to us asking how to break through the barriers to navigating Wilmington. We help them break through silos and introduce them to information or resources.”

When asked what each brings to the table, Felton quickly says he’s the “people person who builds relationships.” Coley says he “lacks fear and has skills that help him push past barriers. And Varella describes herself as the “strategy person,” adding that the other two reach millennials while she is more effective with a slightly older population. “The five of us [which includes co-founders Linda Watson, Kenyon Wilson, and Alfred Campbell] operate like a machine. Each of us has a task.”

Each of which rolls up to supporting up-and-coming entrepreneurs in 2020 and beyond.


Tanya Washington
Chief of Staff, City of Wilmington

Wilmington

Nominator: John Rago (Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Communications). “She has been part of every major policy, fiscal, legal or community matter that has occurred in the City of Wilmington since 1991. Since January of 2017, she has been Mayor Purzycki’s chief of staff, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the entire government. She never seeks the limelight, happy to work behind the scenes for all these years and serving all of these mayors [five since 1991] and council presidents for the good of the citizens of Wilmington. She is, without a doubt, the most knowledgeable city government employee still working in the government. Tanny knows her way through any issue, initiative, policy, law or crisis that needs her attention in city government. She is the mayor’s rock. She is an ethical, skilled and professional government manager who will guide the mayor’s initiatives in 2020, move the city further forward in 2020, and hopefully beyond next year.”

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