Delaware’s second annual community-led Startup302 funding competition is accepting applications from underrepresented founders with early-stage, technology-enabled ventures through Feb. 20. Focusing on underrepresented founders with a goal of tackling funding inequities and strengthening the regional startup community, the contest is offering more than $150,000 in non-dilutive grant prizes to winners along with mentoring and valuable networking connections such as introductions to potential investors.
According to Noah Olson, director of Innovation at Startup302 organizer and sponsor Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP), tech-enabled startups with at least one founding team member from an underrepresented group may apply. The competition’s prize categories reflect Delaware’s innovation and industry landscape, he said, so life sciences (including agriculture), chemistry and advanced materials and more broadly tech (including fintech, AI/ML, big data, SaaS, e-sports) ventures are especially encouraged to apply.
“As we’ve seen with the success of last year’s competition and the impact on the winning companies, innovation thrives when diverse perspectives are fostered and included,” Olson said. “Startup302 aims to improve access and equity across the First State’s innovation ecosystem and beyond.”
Garry Johnson III, founder of First Founders Accelerator and chair of the Startup 302 Steering Committee, agreed.
“Delaware has a unique opportunity to position itself as a leader of inclusive and equitable innovation,” Johnson said, “and I’m excited to contribute to collaborative efforts like these that attract diverse communities of founders to the region.”
Within the startup venture capital community, underrepresented founders are those in whom the venture capital industry, as a whole, underinvests relative to their demographic’s percent of overall United States population. Underrepresented founders include women, as well as people of color, including African Americans, Latin Americans and those of Native American descent.
Under Johnson’s leadership, the Startup302 Steering Committee includes representatives from key Delaware innovation-supporting organizations. These include DPP, University of Delaware’s Horn Entrepreneurship, the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance (DESCA), the Delaware State University College of Business, the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce Emerging Enterprise Center (EEC) and the Delaware Innovation Space.
“DESCA is thrilled to be a part of this intentional effort to grow a diverse and inclusive startup community,” said DESCA Executive Director Dora Cheatham. “This type of resource collaboration is vital to building a thriving innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Dan Freeman, founding director of Horn Entrepreneurship, said, “Horn Entrepreneurship is honored to support Startup302, which provides great opportunities for founders to make connections, receive guidance, raise visibility, gain credibility and win prize funding – all of which can help to build traction and increase the likelihood of new venture success.”
Lillie Crawford, director of the Delaware Center for Enterprise Development (DCED) at DSU’s College of Business, added that “DCED is delighted to be a part of Startup302. DCED has a history of supporting minority-owned businesses from underserved communities and values the Startup302 commitment to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship specifically targeting underrepresented founders.”
Alysse Bortolotto, director of Economic Development and Business Incubation at the EEC stated, “The EEC is honored to be a part of a program that is creating a more fertile entrepreneurial ecosystem by tackling funding inequities and gaps that will lead to greater innovation, diversity and opportunity.”
There is no cost to enter, thanks to sponsorship by the State of Delaware and other support. Current Startup302 sponsors also include DPP, First Founders, Horn Entrepreneurship, DSU College of Business, Delaware Innovation Space, the Delaware Division of Small Business, the Office of New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, Discover Bank, FMC, Labware, Highmark Delaware and DuPont.
The competition finals will take place virtually in May. For further details and to apply, visit startup302.org. Questions may be addressed to Olson at [email protected]
About Delaware Prosperity Partnership
Delaware Prosperity Partnership leads Delaware’s economic development efforts to attract, grow and retain businesses; to build a stronger entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem; and to support private employers in identifying, recruiting, and developing talent. The DPP team works with site selectors, executives and developers focused on where to locate or grow a business and helps with reviewing potential sites, cost-of-living analyses and funding opportunities, including available tax credits and incentives. DPP advances a culture of innovation in Delaware, working with innovators and startups to spotlight and celebrate successes and connect them with the resources they need to succeed. DPP and its partnerships throughout Delaware support and advance the missions of companies of all sizes and sectors.