I worked/lived in Delaware for almost a decade. As a transplant and Chicagoan at heart I have heard all the “Dela-where?” jokes and made some as well. But after ten years hanging out in the state where they ask which high school you went to right after they meet you I can tell you that all those jokers are right. Delaware is small. And when it comes to startups, size matters.
Almost three years ago an idea started to percolate amongst a few of us hanging out in Wilmington. Two guys who were young and naive enough to think that co-working could work in downtown Wilmington had brought a number of us together periodically for what would eventually become our 400+ member Delaware Tech Meetup. But then it was a much smaller group that would meet to share stories, practice pitching and dream about what the startup ecosystem in Delaware could be.
One of the great strengths of working in a small business-focused state is the access you have to key people. From business leaders to government you are never further than one degree of separation from the person you need. We saw this in spades when an eduction focused startup came to talk to us. After determining that getting to decision makers in school districts was on their critical path it was a short step to arrange for a meeting with both the head of the largest school district and the Secretary of Education for the state.
This past Monday, three years later, I joined a group of well over 150 people to re-launch a newly renovated, larger co-working space. Surrounded by representatives from all parts of the ecosystem we listened as Governor Markell spoke about the importance, the progress and the contribution of the initiative to date. Led by Mona Parikh this initiative has grown well beyond our initial discussions. With growing corporate support and an ever improving cadre of startups Delaware is defining its identity amongst the I95 corridor. No longer will Wilmington be just the stop between DC and Philly for Geeks on a Train.
I left Delaware soon after we established the Public/Private partnership with the state that defines our official launch in 2012. I have returned many times to share my learnings from new home in New Orleans and support the various events that have led up to this point. Each time it has been eye-opening to see the growth, the new faces, the enthusiasm. While I will continue to make New Orleans my home I will aways be only a call away for my Start It Up Delaware family. “A catalyst for dreamers” is an appropriate mission for the coming years and a great recognition that this all started with a bunch of dreamers.
Thanks are due to many but here are a few that I want to personally call out from the early days.
- Wes Garnett and Steve Roetteger – Thank you for being crazy enough to build us our first clubhouse.
- Brian Sowards – Thank you for your vision and spark.
- Brad Wason – Thank you for taking the leap of faith so early (and often).
- Tim McIntosh – Thank you for being my sanity check and wingman for much of this ride.
- Jeff Rollins & Lee Mikles – Thank you for be willing to listen to me and trusting me enough to join and lead the board.
- Dan Freeman – For being the best university partner we could have asked for and for building the pipeline of entrepreneurs with the Horn program.
- Mona Parikh – Thank you for leading by example and being the best connector the community could ask for.
- The Net DE community – You guys rock!
If you are ever in Delaware come join us HERE