Dr. Norman Wagner is Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware and is co-founder of STF Technologies LLC.
Dr. Wagner is also very involved with organizations and discussions that address startup companies and entrepreneurial activities in Delaware. We asked him some questions about both his work and his observations.
Q: In addition to your day job as a professor at the university, you also are co-founder of STF Technologies, which provides advanced materials and personal protective equipment. How is business?
Norman Wagner: We spun off about five years ago and are now located at the university’s STAR Campus. Since we are not a software company that just needs to write code, we welcomed the laboratory space. Right now, we are working on a Phase 2 contract with NASA for suits for interplanetary travel, with ILC Dover as a partner.
Q: Have you received the type of assistance you needed in Delaware?
NW: Yes. Although we never were located at the Delaware Technology Park, Mike Bowman has been a tremendous resource with his experience and advice. And we may shortly need some space there.
Q: What are some other resources that you think are valuable to startups?
NW: We’ve seen a huge, positive cultural shift here in the last five to 10 years. For example, the work that STRIDE [The Science, Technology and Research Institute of Delaware] is doing at the Experimental Station is a great resource for high-quality consulting. Plus, we have a huge talent pool at the University of Delaware that could be leveraged.
Q: You see first-hand the work being done by graduate students at the university and the kinds of product and business ideas they have. What needs to be done to see that they stay in Delaware to develop these projects?
NW: The biggest missing component is the bridge needed to retain the talent to keep the people here so that they can spin out these ideas. Graduating students get job offers and are tempted to go elsewhere, and, as they need income, who can blame them? Some other states have funding to give them a “bridge year” where they can take their idea and spin it off and have time to look for federal funding or private investor funding.
Q: We’ve talked about many of the startup activities and startup support. What still needs to be done there?
NW: There are lots of people working on this idea, but what we need is one-stop shopping for entrepreneurs who have this great idea for a product or process, but still have to figure out the business or service side of things — what do you need for insurance, accounting, how to do payroll, protection of intellectual properties, those sorts of services.
Q: What excites you most about the local environment?
NW: Simply that Delaware is becoming very competitive in attracting ideas and people.