Exploring the power of community to drive economic developmentJan 05, 2015 07:26PM ● By Kerigan Butt
Photo by Steven Hoffman Jennifer Hill was the keynote speaker for the Economic Development Luncheon. Hill is frequently called upon as an expert on small businesses and entrepreneurship, and is an advocate for women in business.
(Editor's note: This article first appeared in our Winter 2013 edition.)
By Steven Hoffman
Jennifer Hill, an international venture lawyer who regularly offers business commentary for MSNBC, lauded New Castle County’s efforts to support entrepreneurs and business start-ups at the second annual Economic Development Luncheon at the DuPont Country Club on Oct. 29. The event, which was hosted by the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, drew more than 200 business, political, and community leaders throughout the area.
Hill pointed to the New Castle Chamber of Commerce and the county’s Economic Development Council as powerful unifying forces for the business community. One of the recurring messages of the event was the importance of small business innovation to the economy, and the need to provide early-stage support to businesses.
David J. Freschman, the managing principal of Innovation Capital Advisors, LLC., said that “economic growth is a function of innovation” and he and other speakers touted Delaware’s strong history of business innovation that continues today.
In his opening remarks, Mark Kleinschmidt, the president of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, said that it was appropriate that the Economic Development Luncheon was taking place at the DuPont Country Club because the DuPont Company is Delaware’s greatest example of a start-up.
Hill shared her experiences being a part of the New York City business community at a time when there was a shift away from such a heavy emphasis on financial companies and toward emerging technology.
“People were leaving corporate jobs to get in to innovative enterprises,” she explained. “There is now a business incubator program in every part of the country for technology.”
Business incubators are one way that a local community can help drive economic development. Hill explained that banks are spending less and less on new businesses, so it’s a brave new world for start-ups. Hill believes that ultimately this brave new world could be a better one for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship.
“Innovation is now trendy,” she said. “It’s easier and cheaper for people to get their ideas out now.”
Hill talked about the rapid growth of crowd-funding as a way to finance projects large and small. Kickstarter and Indigogo were at the forefront of what is now billion-dollar industry, with exponential growth between 2011 and 2012. More and more start-ups are turning to crowd-funding—to the point where more than 50,000 different business ideas have been supported. Many of these ideas might not have seen the light of day otherwise.
“Anyone with a creative idea who is willing to put themselves out there can use this in the community. I think we will continue to see more of these ideas,” Hill said. “I think that’s a trend that will continue. It fills the gap. It also allows people to put money and skills where their beliefs are.”
When it comes to the economy, we’re all in this together—now maybe more than ever. Hill explained during her talk that as a result of technological advances, the very concept of community has changed significantly.
“Community used to be the school, the neighborhood, the houses of worship,” she said. “Now people are part of your community from all over the world.”
Hill said that she thinks Delaware is in the forefront of supporting small business start-ups as a result of an innovative program that the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce oversees called the Emerging Enterprise Center.
The Emerging Enterprise Center program serves as an incubator for new businesses, providing early-stage support in a variety of ways, including mentoring and access to a network of advisors and strategic partners. There are education programs that will help the start-up businesses develop a sustainable business model by the time they graduate out of the program. These businesses also lease space at affordable prices in the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce’s offices.
Bob Chadwick, the executive vice president of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, said that it was Kleinschmidt who initiated the effort to start the Emerging Enterprise Center.
“It was his idea and his leadership,” Chadwick said.
Since this incubator program started, the companies that have participated in it created 70 new jobs and have generated total revenue of over $8 million. Two companies, Brand Builder Solutions and University Consulting Experts, graduated from the Emerging Enterprise Center earlier this year, bringing the total number of companies that have completed the program to five.
Hill said that the incubator program here in New Castle County is a good model and she hopes that it will be replicated in other communities. This reflects a shift that is taking place in Delaware and elsewhere—smaller more innovative companies are on the rise.
At one time, Delaware’s business future was built on a foundation of chemicals, cars, and credit cards—these industries were growing and creating thousands of jobs in the process. That is no longer the case, and in today’s business climate, leaders must adjust to the new realities—that means holding the line on spending and doing more with less. Also, instead of searching for the next big industry, the plan instead is to seek out a series of smaller initiatives that can help small businesses prosper, giving the economy momentum.
Several speakers at the luncheon talked about how economic uncertainty remains a major issue among chamber members, and about how most business leaders are still cautious about taking on new expenses. There has also been an increase in costs of doing business in Delaware because of workers’ compensation insurance and recent tax increases. But Delaware still has its assets and advantages, officials said. Colleges and universities are engines of economic development, and a number of the First State’s universities are expanding. The port of Wilmington can help spur economic development, and there are also significant redevelopment opportunities in Wilmington. Being located in the center of the Mid-Atlantic region is extremely advantageous as well.
Another asset that Delaware has is the growing number of programs and services available to businesses. The New Castle County Economic Development Council was founded in 2002 as a partnership between government and the business community. Its specific purposes are to help existing businesses and to bring new businesses to the area.
“The Economic Development Council supports economic development not only in Delaware but through the area,” explained Rick Deadwyler, the private sector co-chair of the Economic Development Council.
The New Castle County Chamber of Commerce is an asset as well. Kleinschmidt said that there are currently about 1,400 members from Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The chamber businesses employ about 100,000 people—that’s approximately 25 percent of Delaware’s non-governmental workforce.
Membership in the Chamber of Commerce opens the door to a lot of benefits. The Chamber of Commerce offers an annual seminar series that shines a spotlight on cutting-edge work being done in Delaware. There is a business education program tailored to meet the needs of members, including workshops and seminars. There is a business issues roundtable, which combines a discussion about best practices and ideas from local experts on subject matter of interest to business leaders. A business fundamentals series tackles nuts-and-bolts aspects of running a business—pricing strategies, cash flow issues, business valuations, and tax loopholes—all in seminars that are two hours or less. Marketing, networking, and social media are all themes of Finding Your Next Customer, a program that takes place six times a year.
Chadwick summed up what all these efforts are focused on: “Companies, jobs, paychecks. That’s what it’s all about. We need the companies that can create good jobs so that workers can earn paychecks.”
New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon was instrumental in helping to get the Economic Development Council started over a decade ago. He said that it has been quite an asset as officials work to improve the business environment and plan for the future.
“It’s wonderful to see how much they’ve accomplished,” Gordon said. “In New Castle County, we do everything we can to support existing businesses.”
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email [email protected]
About Jennifer Hill
Jennifer Hill served as the keynote speaker for the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce’s second annual Economic Development Luncheon. Hill led business develop for several tech start-ups. Now she works with start-ups and deals in the realm of angel investors, venture capitalists, and crowd-funding. She is often called upon as an expert on small business, entrepreneurship, and high-growth technology companies. She has co-hosted a TV show, The Secrets of Successful Start-Ups and writes for CNN Money as a member of the Small Business Board of Directors. She is an advocate for female entrepreneurs and serves on the advisory boards of tech start-ups from New York City to the Silicon Valley.When she was tapped to serve alongside entrepreneurial rock stars like Sir Richard Branson
and Clint Greenleaf on Huffington Post’s Small Business Board of Directors, Hill was described as “an eloquent advocate for all things entrepreneurial.”
New Castle County Chamber of Commerce
12 Penns Way
New Castle Corporate Commons
New Castle, Del. 19720