People to Watch in 2019

Movers, shakers, difference-makers

Delaware has plenty of talented people, but who is set to make the biggest impact in 2019? Delaware Business Times asked industry leaders who they thought would be the biggest names in the coming year. The people they called out included restaurateurs, innovators, entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, developers, bankers and many, many more from all three Delaware counties. Expect more stories about this group in the months ahead, as these exceptional Delawareans kick off the new year with big projects and big ideas. 

By Michael Bradley, Pam George, Dan Linehan and Christine Facciolo
Contributing Writers


Joel Amin Jr.
CEO and Founder of Wilminvest

Joel Amin Jr., co-founder of Wilminvest, describes the venture as traditional fixer-upper meets social innovation. Amin, along with fellow UD student Bryce Fender and Demetrius Thorn from the University of Pennsylvania, provides supported housing environments for third-party community-based organizations by renovating vacant properties in the city of Wilmington and leasing them as permanent supportive housing to consumers with substance abuse issues, mental health issues and chronic veteran homelessness.

The team placed first in last spring’s Pitch Slam! Competition in Minneapolis, earning them a grand prize of $10,000. The competition focused on performing elevator pitches in a minute and a half.
– Christine Facciolo


Dora Cheatham
Executive Director of the New Castle County Economic Development Council and Program Manager of the Emerging Enterprise Center

With a background in private-sector marketing and business development, Dora Cheatham is now devoting those skills to help New Castle County small businesses as program director of the county chamber of commerce’s economic development arm. “We help small businesses get a handle on their unique value proposition, understand their customers’ wants and build a solid foundation,” she said.

Often, her role is to convene gatherings of leaders in industries that are clustered in Delaware, such as financial technology, chemicals and health services.
– Dan Linehan


Jean Dahlgren
President of DCAD

Jean Dahlgren believes the most effective leaders are those eager to share and capitalize on the successes of their organizations. Dahlgren, who became the third president of the Delaware College of Art and Design in August, remains committed to the school’s role as a catalyst in the revitalization of downtown Wilmington while forging new partnerships to increase visibility, broaden curriculum and provide students with greater career options.

Dahlgren, an accomplished artist and graphic designer in her own right, is no stranger to challenging academic environments. Prior to coming to DCAD, she served as dean of undergraduate programs at Sage College in Albany N.Y., where she boosted enrollment, obtained funding to maintain the campus art gallery and revamped the art and design curriculum.
– Christine Facciolo


Damian DeStefano
Director of the Delaware Division of Small Business

A 2017 reorganization of Delaware’s economic development programs created the Division of Small Business and tasked it with working with businesses of 100 or fewer employees.

Its goal, says Division Director Damian DeStefano, is to make Delaware “the most business-friendly state in the nation.”

The 25-person agency has found itself to be most useful in helping business owners navigate other parts of government, said DeStefano, who became director in August 2018 after a position in capital budgeting at the state Office of Management and Budget.

Aside from outreach to spread the word about its existence, the agency’s two major policy initiatives in 2019 are to carry out an angel investor tax credit and help businesses qualify for tax incentives in the state’s 25 Opportunity Zones.
– Dan Linehan


Fran DiNuzzo
President and CEO of ILC Dover

Things have been going pretty well for ILC Dover’s pharmaceutical operations. The U.S. facility had been running practically at a 24/7 pace, never a good thing. CEO Fran DiNuzzo decided to expand — in Ireland. ILC is moving from its 10,000-square foot facility in Cork County to a 30,000-square foot space in the same area. The extra room will allow for a more reasonable production schedule and serve as a springboard for future expansion in Europe and even Asia.

“Ireland has been beautiful to us,” DiNuzzo says. “They were very helpful in helping us find a new location.
– Michael Bradley


Kurt Foreman
Executive Director of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership

Kurt Foreman became executive director of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, a state economic development nonprofit, in April 2018 after almost three decades in recruitment, site selection and at other economic development agencies.

The partnership was initially funded by the state for $2 million a year on the condition that it raise $1 million from the private sector. One of the partnership’s 2019 priorities is to grow its long-term funding from members so it’s sustainable once the state’s three-year funding deal expires.

Recruitment is another goal. As companies’ need for talented workers becomes more acute, the partnership is increasingly acting as something of a concierge by helping Delaware transplants and their families transition to the state.
– Dan Linehan


Lisa & Carl Georigi
Platinum Dining Group Founders

Lisa and Carl Georigi of Platinum Dining Group potentially doubled the stress level when they decided to open two restaurants within months of each other. Both involve new construction. But the Georigis can handle the pressure. Wilmington-based Platinum Dining Group owns Eclipse Bistro in Wilmington’s Little Italy, Redfire Grill in Hockessin, Capers & Lemons near Greenville and Taverna in downtown Newark. The company also has a catering arm.

Platinum Dining has taken a measured approach to growth. Eclipse opened in 1997, and the Georigis did not open their second restaurant until 2000. They have been developing the latest projects for years. The two restaurants, the company’s first in Brandywine Hundred, are in Buccini/Pollin Group’s mixed-use redevelopment of Concord Plaza. On tap is a new concept, El Camino Mexican Kitchen, which will open at the end of February 2019, and a second Taverna, which will open in April or May.
– Pam George


Thomas J. Hanna
President of Harvey Hanna & Associates

Harvey Hanna & Associates President Thomas J. Hanna said 2019 will be an active year for the redevelopment of the former General Motors site in Newport. Demolition, which includes as much recycling as possible, is expected to last through most of 2019. Even as that occurs, a proposed redevelopment plan is nearing completion, which sets the stage for potential deal-making.

Hanna expects e-commerce fulfillment — warehouses to store, pack and ship inventory; an industry dominated by Amazon — to be a major player at the site. Redevelopment at the 3 million-square-foot Boxwood plant is just one facet of the larger Newport plan.

Meanwhile, in Lewes, the Lighthouse Cove project is in the middle of its final stage, which includes about 30 bayfront condos and a special events room with its first weddings booked for fall 2019.
– Dan Linehan


Ryan Tack-Hooper
Legal Director at ACLU of Delaware

Ryan Tack-Hooper joined the ACLU of Delaware as a staff attorney in 2015 and became the civil rights nonprofit’s legal director in 2017.

Among its biggest priorities for 2019 is an ongoing education lawsuit that alleges the state is failing low-income, disabled and non-English-speaking students. Its information-gathering pre-trial phase could last through the entire year.

Other priorities include efforts to increase state government transparency, especially as it pertains to the prison system, and participation in the ACLU’s nationwide Smart Justice campaign, which aims to reduce the jail and prison population by half.
– Dan Linehan


Garry Johnson
Founder of Urbinvest, LLC and KnowCapp

Garry Johnson, one of Delaware’s rising technologists, is a social entrepreneur who uses design thinking to build a more inclusive world. Johnson, who received a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and design from the University of Delaware in May, has developed several ventures, including one that creates functional and fashionable clothing for people with disabilities and another that creates opportunities for a more accessible and equitable tech industry.

Johnson placed first at the Startup Tech Conference and Pitch Competition at Prairie View A&M University in February 2018. At the competition, Johnson introduced TalentPool, the latest iteration of a previous startup, ColorCoded, which helped young men and women of color to learn to code or join the tech industry.
– Christine Facciolo


Jennifer Kmiec
Executive Director of the Committee of 100

Jennifer Kmiec joined the Committee of 100, a membership-funded group of Delaware’s business leaders, as an associate director in 2016 and became executive director on Dec. 1.

Land use and transportation will continue to be focal points in 2019, including the methods government uses to estimate the impact of development on traffic congestion. If, say, an intersection is at its traffic capacity and a developer wants to build there, he or she must pay for improvements.

“That’s not a very fair way to look at it,” Kmiec said. Other priorities include faster government permitting, mentoring opportunities, changes to the Coastal Zone Act Program and incentives to develop contaminated, or “brownfield,” sites.
 – Dan Linehan


Rodger Levenson
President and CEO of WSFS Financial Corp.

On Jan. 1, Rodger Levenson, a lifelong resident of the Delaware Valley who joined the company in 2006, will become president and CEO of Wilmington-based WSFS Financial Corp.

The company’s merger with Philadelphia’s oldest and largest bank, Beneficial Bancorp, is expected to close early in 2019. The merger nearly doubles the bank’s size and helps WSFS expand into surrounding states.

The merger also includes the closure of about a quarter of the combined banks’ retail branch offices and uses half of the savings to fund long-term technology investment.

“We need the ability to adopt the technology out there today and the technology that could be coming down the road,” he said.
– Dan Linehan


Erica Marshall
Campaign for Smart Justice Manager

Wilmington attorney Erica Marshall’s efforts to create a more equitable criminal justice system led to the founding in 2017 of Defendant Data Solutions LLC, which won the Great Dames 2018 Remarkable Ideas III competition. The company helps defense attorneys better advocate for the clients by providing reports that detail the sentencing of people nationwide. The reports also note discrepancies. Marshall, who serves as the Campaign for Smart Justice manager at ACLU Delaware, hopes the startup could eventually help attorneys and their clients in Delaware and beyond.
– Christine Facciolo


Terence M. Murphy, FACHE
CEO of Bayhealth Inc.

If all goes as planned, February 2019 will be a banner month for Terence M. Murphy, the president and CEO of Bayhealth Inc. and Bayhealth Medical Center. That is when the Dover-based health-care system will open the169-acre Bayhealth Sussex Campus, home to the Bayhealth Hospital, Sussex Campus, and the Bayhealth Outpatient Center, Sussex Campus.

Clearly visible from Del. 1, the hospital will replace the landlocked 22-acre Milford Memorial Hospital site in downtown Milford, which could not expand to serve a rapidly growing population.

Murphy, who is responsible for the daily oversight of operations at Bayhealth Hospital, Kent Campus, and Bayhealth Milford Memorial, has had a lot of experience preparing for the mammoth project.
– Pam George


Mac Nagaswami
Founder of Carvertise

Mac Nagaswami, founder of the car-wrapping ad company Carvertise, has his eye on expanding to some of the country’s biggest markets in 2019, including Seattle, San Francisco, Houston and Miami.

That means tweaking their operational processes to, ideally, redouble their business. “We doubled the size our business from 2017 to 2018,” he said. “Doubling larger numbers is a little harder.”

Nagaswami said he’s excited about upcoming special projects with a few brands that stretch the creative limits around vehicle-based advertising.
– Dan Linehan


Stephen Neuberger
Partner at The Neuberger Firm

Stephen Neuberger is the younger member of the father-son attorney duo The Neuberger Firm. They are behind two high-profile lawsuits alleging understaffing at state agencies led to the deaths of state employees.

Neuberger expects their latest case, on behalf of the family members of two firefighters who died fighting a 2016 rowhouse fire, to last through 2019.

The firm often represents government employees who are, in his words, “getting caught in the cogs” of their leaders’ decisions.

He recently got married, which has changed his work life, too.

“I can’t just work until 2 a.m. anymore,” he says.
– Dan Linehan


Bailey O’Brien
Co-founder of D150 Fueling

Along with partners Amedeo DeLuca and Sam Bacharach, Bailey O’Brien started D150 Fueling in July 2018. Their business uses fuel trucks as mobile gas stations, bringing diesel fuel to trucking fleets, often overnight. Clients typically hire D150 looking to reduce their own wage costs in paying employees to fill up on the job.

O’Brien said the company has in six months hit growth targets they’d planned to hit in year two, when they thought they’d already have more staff. It’s been busy, but the company hired its first employee in early December and plans to hire another in early January.

They’d also like to add at least two fueling trucks in 2019 and expand their business, now centered in the Port of Wilmington area, to southern New Castle County and parts of Pennsylvania.
– Dan Linehan


Kevin Reilly
Author, Entrepreneur, Former NFL Player

When Kevin Reilly, a Wilmington author, inspirational speaker and former NFL player, sat down to add a new chapter to his autobiography, “Tackling Life,” recent events gave him a natural theme: The Eagles’ 2018 Super Bowl win and the college basketball championship of his alma mater, Villanova.

The book’s second edition, published recently, includes a meditation on the teams’ similarities, including their underdog status, sense of brotherhood and selfless attitude.

Reilly, who lost his arm in an operation to treat the cancer that ended his NFL career in 1979, says the book has lent him more credibility as a speaker, helping him triple his opportunities. In 2019, he hopes to add
a third edition to his book, keep talking about resilience and spend time with his 10 grandchildren.
– Dan Linehan


Bryon Short
Executive vice president of the Delaware Contractors Association

After decades of working in both the private and public sectors, including most recently a 10-year turn in the General Assembly, Bryon Short left government in October to become executive vice president of the Delaware Contractors Association.

Short, who worked in the real estate industry before becoming a lawmaker, said the association’s goal of having a vibrant construction economy is served by having supportive development laws, amenities to draw businesses and a level playing field so its members have a “fair shot” at getting work.

A continued shortage of skilled workers, exacerbated by the message that college is the only option for young people, is holding back the industry in Delaware, he said.
– Dan Linehan


Rep. Michael Smith
Director of Strategic Initiatives at the University of Delaware’s College of Health Sciences

As director of strategic initiatives for the University of Delaware’s College of Health Sciences, Michael Smith sees himself as something of a puzzlemaster, determining how priorities like research, education and health care fit together.

Smith, who previously worked in economic development for former Gov. Michael Castle, said those pieces come together in the STAR Health Sciences Complex. It exposes students to health-care research in the STAR Tower and real-life care delivery in the college’s three public clinics. Smith was also recently elected to the Delaware General Assembly as a Republican.

He says he ran because his background and experience — as a father of two boys, caregiver for an older adult and an expert in health care and economic development — leaves him well suited to help Delaware meet its challenges.
– Dan Linehan


Patrick Staggs
Owner of Revelation Craft Brewing Co.

Patrick Staggs and Revelation Craft Brewing Co. are thinking big — and small. Big, as in buying Georgetown’s 16 Mile Brewing Co. in Georgetown and using its comfortable space to increase production of Revelation’s line, as well as have parties, weddings and tastings. Big, as in opening a brewpub this year in Whitehall.

Small, as in having the ability to off-load some of his West Rehoboth operation to the larger space and being able to focus on specialty brews, like Mother-in-Law IPA. It’s a good mix, and something Staggs hopes will launch Revelation from Delaware into Maryland and Virginia, and even into spirits. There’s a lot going on. “It’s going to be a busy year,” Staggs says.
– Michael Bradley


Brennan Stark
CEO of Y Innovations

Not many 20-year-olds would postpone college to strike out on their own. But Brennan Stark is not your typical 20-year-old. Stark is CEO of Y Innovations, which he founded in 2017 with lifelong friends Steve Burns and Dhruv Mohnot. The company uses naturally sourced materials to build environmentally friendly houses for homeless families. What sets the company apart is that it’s working in a city and it’s the first of its kind in Delaware.

Y Innovations just finished its first house on the 2900 block of N. Jefferson St. in Wilmington’s Old Ninth Ward neighborhood. Stark is gearing up for the summer when he will break ground on a four-house project on Davis Street off the Governor Prinz Boulevard in Northeast Wilmington.
– Christine Facciolo


Helen Stimson
President of the Delaware BioScience Association

Before becoming president of the Delaware BioScience Association in February 2017, Helen Stimson was a senior vice president at Agilent Technologies, a manufacturing spinoff of Hewlett-Packard.

For the first half of 2019, the association’s attention will be focused on showing Delaware off on the world stage at the 2019 BIO International Convention, the world’s largest such trade show. It will be held in Philadelphia in June.

In addition to holding 20 events for members, the association will be helping those members pitch their businesses to the investors and companies at the event. “There will be a huge amount of effort to make sure we’re favorably seen,” Stimson said.
– Dan Linehan


Eric Sugrue
President & Managing Partner of Big Fish Restaurant Group

Eric Sugrue, the managing partner of Rehoboth Beach-based Big Fish Restaurant Group, will be spending a lot of time in Wilmington in 2019. The company recently purchased properties near its popular Trolley Square Oyster House. Big Fish now owns the former Moro, which will become a steakhouse, Scratch Magoo’s, which will have a new concept before the summer, and Old Banks Craft Bistro, which Big Fish plans to lease to another restaurant group.

Along the Wilmington Riverfront, the home of the New Castle County location of Big Fish Grill, construction should start in early 2019 on Taco Grande. Both properties are near the hotel and banquet — a partnership between Big Fish Restaurant Group and Kennett Square-based Onix Group — which is currently under construction and expected to open in 2019.
– Pam George


Kris Vaddi
CEO and Founder of Prelude Therapeutics

After a 14-year career in drug discovery at the pharmaceutical company Incyte, Kris Vaddi formed his own team to create Prelude Therapeutics in 2016. Unlike
at the well-funded Incyte, Vaddi started Prelude with a more limited budget.

While this means they have a smaller scope — they plan to use existing discoveries in novel ways — they have big ambitions for 2019 and beyond. Prelude is aiming to run its first human trials to test potential drugs this year.

The team is focusing on three types of cancer: blood cancer, brain cancer
and lymphoma.
– Dan Linehan


Wendie Vestfall
President of the Kent County Tourism Corp.

Wendie Vestfall, president of the Kent County Tourism Corp. since January 2016, says the coming year will be spent developing the brand developed the year she arrived, called “Delaware’s Quaint Villages.”

Most tourists are looking for a respite from their fast-paced, traffic-clogged lives, and Kent County’s branding focuses on the heritage and mom-and-pop shops of Smyrna, Harrington, Milford and Dover. Vestfall says the strategy is working; receipts from the county’s accommodations tax are up 16 percent over three years.

The next year will also bring opportunities to show off history, with the 50th anniversary of the Dover International Speedway and the 100th anniversary of the Delaware State Fair.
– Dan Linehan

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